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Full text of "Mind's Eye: A Liberal Arts Journal Spring 2000"

Mind's Eye 

A Liberal Arts Journal 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 




John M. C. Hess: A Tribute 

The Simone de Beauvoir Connection: 

The Influence of The Second Sex on the Anthropology of Women 
By Diana J. Fox 

Poetry by 

Mary Kennan Herbert, Ben Jacques, Peter Filkins and Cynthia Richardson 

Gardens, Tea, and Sympathy 

By Andrew Howitt 

Exploring Consciousness 

Book Review by Meera Tamaya 

The Noble Savage in Chinese Film: 

Ethnic and Gendered Dimensions 
Review Essay by Sutni Colligan 



Spring 2000 



Mind's Eye 

A Libera] Arts Journal 



SPRING 2000 



Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 



Editorial Board 

Stfmi Colligan 
Acting Managing Editor 

*Bob Bishoff 
Harold Brotzman 

Abbot! Cutler 
Tony Gengarelly 

Steve Green 

Leon Peters 

Maynard Seider 

Meera Tamaya 

*0n sabbatical leave 

© 2000 The Mind's Eye 
ISSN 1098-0512 

The Mind's Eye, a journal of scholarly and creative work, is published 
twice annually by the faculty of Massachusetts College ot Liberal Arts. 
While emphasizing articles of scholarly merit. The Mind's Eye focuses 
on a general communication of ideas of interest to a liberal arts col- 
lege. We welcome expository essays, including reviews, as well as 
fiction, poetry and art. Please refer to the inside back cover for a list 
of writer's guidelines. 



Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 

Formerly North Adams State College 

375 Church Street 
North Adams, MA 01247-4100 

Visit our Web site: www.mcla.mass.edu/academics/mindseyexxx 



Mind's Eye 

Spring 2000 



Editor's File 4 

John M. C. Hess: A Tribute 5 

The Simone de Beauvoir Connection: 

The Influence of The Second Sex on the Anthropology 
of Women 

By Diana J. Fox 8 



Poetry by 

Mary Kennan Herbert 37 

Ben Jacques 38 

Peter Klkins 40 

Cynthia Richardson 42 

Gardens, Tea, and Sympathy 

By Andrew Howitt 43 

Exploring Consciousness 

Book Review By Meera Tamaya 51 

The Noble Savage in Chinese Film: 

Ethnic and Gendered Dimensions 

Review Essay By Sumi Colligan 56 

Contributors 62 



Editor's File 



This edkion begins with a tribute to John Hess articulated by Deb 
Foss, Steve Green and Mike SaboJ, but expressive of sentiments 
sharer] widely by the college community. John's capacity as a 
leader is especially highlighted and in recent years, John's guidance 
was best exemplified by his efforts to build community support for 
replacing our general education requirements with a core curricu- 
lum. One of the most important objectives of such a curriculum is to 
break down arbitrary divisions between disciplinary knowledge and 
modes of inquiry, as well as to explore diverse approaches to com- 
mon questions and themes. 

One of the most striking features of the in-depth expository essay 
and two review essays that are included in this issue is that all three 
pieces establish links between diverse domains of knowledge and/or 
artistic expression. For example, in her exploration of Simone de 
Beauvoir's influence on feminist anthropology, Diana Fox documents 
the connections between an icon of feminist philosophy, scholarship on 
the anthropology of women and human-rights discourse and practice 
in a shifting academic and political context. Moreover, Sumi Colligan's 
review of Joan Chen's film Xiu Xiu: The Rent-Down Girl integrates an- 
thropological theory with history and popular culture: whereas Meera 
Tamaya's book reviews bridge neuroscience research and detective fic- 
tion. Additionally, all three essays examine issues of consciousness and 
their individual, gender, class and/or national manifestations. To crumble 
unproductive walls even further, we have incorporated poetry from 
our very own Ben Jacques, along with contributions from Peter Filkins. 
Mary Herbert and Cynthia Richardson, all full- or part-time Berkshire 
residents. The article by Andrew Howitt provides an interesting analy- 
sis of how Europeans have misinterpreted Chinese gardens. 

fn keeping with John Hcss's commitment to effective teaching and 
a public liberal arts mission, we encourage submissions that promote 
interdisciplinary analysis, as well as critical reflections on pedagogical 
approaches, philosophies and sources of inspiration. Furthermore, aca- 
demic treatises alongside literary and artistic expressions challenge en- 
trenched systems of thought and experience. Submissions for Fall 2000 
are due by Jufy 1 5th. 

Sumi Colligan 
Acting Managing Editor 



4 The Mind's Eye 



John M. C. Hess: 
A Tribute 



John Hess, professor of chemistry, died in December 1999. 
Ai the time of his death, he was serving the college as Acting 
Vice President of Academic Affairs. His nearly 36 years here 
were characterised by an enduring devotion to his students, 
his colleagues and the college. Three of his colleagues wrote 
the tribute to John Hess that follows. 



We remember John Hess most particularly as a leader. He 
was incredibly effective in leading with a gentle hand. He 
had the wonderful gift of being able to lead without alien- 
attolgi We never knew John to lose his temper, to swear or raise his 
voice in anger. His was a quieter approach. He got things done by listen- 
ing, persuading and compromising. He made his points through pa- 
tience, intelligence and logic. John used these attributes successfully as 
chair of the Chemistry Department, president of the Faculty Senate, 
chair of various governance committees, president of the Association of 
Faculty and Librarians (the faculty union) and, most recently, as Acting 
Vice President of Academic Affairs. 

As president of the facufty association during [he late 1 980s, John 
led us through the single most difficult time in our collective memory. 

The Mind's Eye 5 



John M. C. Hess: A Tribute 



Once it had become clear that maintaining the status quo in adminis- 
trative leadership would not move the college forward, John as associa- 
tion leader used all of his skills in bringing the faculty and the librarians 
together to thoughtfully review the situation and discuss options. He 
worked hard to help his colleagues achieve consensus when a single 
unified course of action was not apparent. As a leader, he ensured that 
appropriate documentation was professionally prepared and presented 
in order to convince others that change was necessary. That this 
proceeded in such a deliberate, respectful and dignified fashion is 
testimony not only to John Hess's leadership skills but also to his 
commitment to preserving the dignity of everyone involved. He 
understood that to treat others with compassion, regardless of their 
views, was the only way for the college to continue moving forward. 
In the process, John mended fences and built bridges that united 
this college. Without his honesty and integrity, our ability to navi- 
gate through troubled limes would have been far more difficult. 

John Hess in all of his roles took time to mentor his colleagues 
and students. Greatly admired as a teacher, he brought wisdom, clear 
thinking and keen analytical ability to his class and laboratory instruc- 
tion, committee work and collegia! relationships. John identified him- 
self not as a chemist but as a teacher of chemistry. His dedication and 
commitment to his students and colleagues contributed greatly to the 
long-term health and well-being of the college. 

After more than 35 years of John's being inextricably woven into 
the fabric of North Adams State College/Massachusetts College of Lib- 
eral Arts, his absence is acutely felt by all of us. His devotion to our 
college was surpassed only by that to his family, who supported him 
and shared in his successes. On a professional level, the absence of his 
knowledge and leadership creates a void that will be difficult to fill; on 
a personal level, the loss of his friendship, support, guidance and sensi- 
tivity is impossible to replace. In our hearts and minds, John was and 
will be the compass directing much of our evolving identity. His stead- 
fast support and contributions have permanently altered the direction 
of the development of the college. 



6 The Mind's Eye 



John M. C. Hess: A Tribute 



Perhaps John's professional life at the college was foretold by this 
caption, which appeared under his first faculty photugraph, in the 1 964 
yearbook: 

We give advice, but we cannot give the wisdom to profit by it. 

John's legacy is his sound advice, embodied in his wisdom, which 
will help define this college for years to come. In that we have all prof- 
ited from the life of John M, C, Hess. 

Deborah Foss, professor of psychology 
Stephen Green, professor of sociology 
Michael Sabol, professor of chemistry 



The Mind's Eye 7 



The Simone de Beauvoir 
Connection: 

The Influence of The Second Sex 
on the Anthropology of Women 

BY DIANA J. POX 



If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we 
decline also to explain her through "the.eternaf feminine," and if nev- 
ertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then' we must 
lace the question: What is a woman? 

—Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex 

Introduction 

One of the greatest ironies in the life of Simone de Beauvoir is 
that her most significant insight proclaiming that women arc 
relegated to positions of alterity, or otherness, vis-a-vis men 
became her own fate as a serious scholar in France.' In 1949. she 
published her controversial book The Second Sex, an enormously cou- 
rageous work for its time, in which she drew from literature, phi- 
losophy, psychoanalysis, Marxism, anthropology and sociology to 
demonstrate how all aspects of social life and thought are dominated 
by the assumption of woman as Other. De Beauvoir wrote that woman 
"is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with 



8 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fox 



reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the 
essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute — she is the Other" (xxii). 
"Society has always been male; poiitical power has always been in the 
hands of men" and woman is "no fellow creature in man's eyes" (70). 
De Beauvoir also explained how women themselves internalize the 
condition of otherness, contributing both to their own devaluation and 
to the oppressive impact of society. The Second Sex is a treatise built around 
this singular idea of woman as Other and it reverberated forcefully 
throughout feminist circles. 

The effect of Simone de Beauvoir's ideas on feminist scholarship 
occurred predominantly outside France, initially in England and the 
United States, as researchers harnessed the idea of the social construc- 
tion of sex as a central analytical category in any study of society. In this 
sense, The Second Sex revolutionized intellectual discourse. Today, femi- 
nist thinkers regard this work as the bridge of ideas connecting First and 
Second Wave feminism (Humm 44). ! 

Simone de Beauvoir's influence was dwarfed in her own country 
by France's love affair with her lifelong companion, Jean -Paul Sartre, 
an overshadowing that, tragically, de Beauvoir herself condoned (Baire 
vii). 1 Her work was so trivialized in France that even French feminists 
whom she inspired avoided identifying themselves as feminists or link- 
ing themsefves with her for [ear of ridicule. In the United States and 
Great Britain, where feminists have regarded her as an icon of the 
women's movement, many disciplines, including anthropology, con- 
tinue to minimize her significant influence on early theorizing about 
gender (Baire vii). The neglect of de Beauvoir in anthropology in par- 
ticular has to do with the lukewarm reception of feminist anthropology 
in general within the discipline. This began to change only in the mid- 
1990s, as anthropology departments actively sought feminist theorists 
and feminist anthropology courses appeared in catalogs. In France, 
French feminists have only recently begun to insist that de Beauvoir 
and her followers obtain a legitimate place in the evolution of the his- 
tory of ideas. 4 This article seeks, to make a modest contribution to this 
wider effort by reintroducing anthropology to Simone de Beauvoir, 5 as 
a pivotal figure in anthropological theory. 

Our journey begins in the 1 970s. We begin by identifying the links 
between The Second Sex and the emergence of a new subfield in depart- 
ments of anthropology across the United States, the Anthropology of 
Women. We examine how de Beauvoir's ideas inspired and influenced 
the Anthropology of Women and how they were received more broadly 



The Mind's Eye 9 



Diana J. Fox 

in the field of. anthropology. We then explore why those same ideas fell 
into obscurity in the 1980s. Our journey ends in the present, demon- 
strating how de Beauvoir's universal claims again resurfaced in the late 
1 990s with a new slant informed by the research of the 1980s, particu- 
larly in the connection between feminist anthropology and women's 
human rights. 

Anthropology of Women scholars were the first generation of an- 
thropologists whose focus grew out of a "specific concern with the 
neglect of women in the discipline" (Moore I). They openly asserted 
feminist goals as integral to their research agendas. Their objectives were 
fourfold: (1) to document mafe bias in earlier ethnographic accounts; 
(2) to collect data about the lives of women from women themselves, 
rather than rely on earlier data collected predominantly by male an- 
thropologists from male informants; (3) to define an activist agenda to 
improve the conditions spawned by gender inequality; (4) and to de- 
velop a body of theory about the origins, diffusion and meaning of 
culture as it pertains to gender. Their most significant claim with both 
theoretical and activist implications was to argue that the subordina- 
tion and secondary status of women is a "pan-cultural fact" (Ortner), 
and in spite of cross-cultural variability, sexual asymmetry is universal. 

Since my argument explores how de Beauvoir's impact on anthro- 
pology has waxed, waned and waxed again over the course of three 
decades, it is crucial to explain why universal claims in general, and the 
claim that women everywhere are subordinate to men, reverberate so 
precariously within anthropology. 6 For two reasons, anthropologists are 
typically skeptical of genera] statements about what all peopies do or 
think. First, the level at which generalities can be made often obfus- 
cates significant and intricate details, which themsefves reveal im- 
portant differences about the nature of culture and its historical and 
contextual specificity. Second, anthropology's origins as a colonial 
discipline have contributed to the perpetuatfon of ethnocentric, rac- 
ist and sexist biases of non-Western cultures — the traditiunal domain 
of anthropology. This occurred mainly through the creation of cul- 
tural evolutionary hierarchies, which sought to categorize all cultures 
according to a set of universaliy applied criteria. In a nutshell, univer- 
salis! theories served to both create and sustain social stratification. 

Anthropology's taboo of cultural universal arose initially in the 
United States as a progressive humanist rejection of 19th- and early- 
20th-century British anthropology's embrace of evolutionary theory. 
Cultural evolutionism was built on universal statements about the 



10 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fox 



connections between human biological traits, particularly "race," and 
cultural development. This framework incorporated all cultures along 
a single, evolutionary trajectory from savage (African, Australian Ab- 
origine, Native American) to barbaric (Asian cultures and southern 
European) to civilized (western and northern European). Each stage 
represented both degrees of technological development and stages of 
moral progress, which the evolutionists claimed were intimately con- 
nected to technological advancement, perceived levels of language com- 
plexity and oversimplified assumptions about the relative complexity 
of thought associated with magical, polytheistic and monotheistic be- 
liefs. Evolutionists such as Herbert Spencer, Henry Lewis Morgan and 
Edward Tylor each claimed that magical thought was associated with 
savagery and monotheism with civilization — polytheism being some- 
where in between. The European colonizing mission sustained itself on 
such views, validating imperial domination as a sort of "gift" of civiliza- 
tion to the "natives." 

Beginning in 191 5 and continuing through much of the 20th cen- 
tury, American anthropology made a radical departure from this model 
and from the application of these principles to the European colonizing 
mission. Fueled by Franz Boas (the "Father of American Anthropol- 
ogy") and his students (Margaret Mead and Zora Nealc Hurston, among 
others), the era of historical particularism emerged, focusing on the in- 
ternal coherence of each culture and highlighting the racism inherent 
in cultural evolutionary theories. Cultural particularism also introduced 
the relativist notion that each culture should be evaluated on its own 
terms as each followed its own internal historical development. This 
idea was significant in delinking biological characteristics with cultural 
ones, debunking the idea that "biology is destiny" and setting anthro- 
pology on the progressive pathway toward identifying both sex and 
race as categories that are socially and culturally meaningful. 

For example, I9ih- and early-20th-century anthropologists had de- 
termined that marriage was a cultural universal. The evolutionists evalu- 
ated each documented form of marriage (various forms of polygamy, 
including polygyny and polyandry) as expressions of the moral devel- 
opment of the group practicing each form. Since cultural evolutionists 
viewed moral development as a reflection of the evolutionary stage of 
biological development, marriage practices themselves suggested a bio- 
logically determined moral order. In short, polygamy was relegated to 
morally depraved savages, while monogamy suggested an expression 
of a civilized ethos. Although some iota of moral consciousness could 



The Mind's Eye 11 



Diana J. Fox 



be attributed to polygamous groups, since rules regulated sexual ac- 
tivity among prescribed partners, monogamous societies were deemed 
morally advanced by virtue of their evolutionary superiority. Boasian 
historical particularism and cultural relativism undermined these per- 
verse views, through their rejection of universal constructs. 

In the 1 970s, when the Anthropology of Women scholars declared 
that women everywhere obtain second-class status by virtue of being 
women, that proposal clashed with the assumption that cultural par- 
ticularism had become not only an anthropological norm but a cher- 
ished belief as well. Anthropologists responded with utmost caution 
to these early feminist tracts. 7 Among these, Marxist anthropologists 
especially, including Eleanor Leacock and Karen Sacks, criticized the 
assumption of universal subordination (Moore 31 ), following Frederich 
Engels' view that women's second-class status came about with the 
development of private property. These researchers located women's 
subordination in certain societal forms and structures. 

Another realm of criticism was directed at the theoretical frame- 
works employed by many of the Anthropology of Women scholars who 
relied, following de Beauvoir and Claude Levi-Strauss, on structural 
analyses that explained cultural phenomena through the structure of 
the human mind. Although the Anthropology of Women scholars drew 
on universal claims in order to liberate women, their analyses of women's 
secondary status as the symbolic products of panhuman thought pro- 
cesses set off warning signals and concurrently prickled anthropology's 
newly guilt-ridden conscience of its role in the colonial enterprise. 

Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere responded to some of this 
criticism. They rejected Leacock's claim, for instance, that fully egalitar- 
ian societies have existed, saying: 

Whereas some anthropologists argue that there are, or have 
been, truly egalitarian societies . . . and all agree that there are 
societies in which women have achieved considerable social rec- 
ognition and power, n one has observed a society in which women 
have publicly recognized power and authority surpassing that of 
men. Everywhere we find that women arc excluded from certain 
crucial economic or political activities, that their roles as wives 
and mothers are associated with fewer powers and prerogatives 
than are the roles of men . . . all contemporary societies are to 
some extent mafe -dominated, and although the degree and ex- 
pression of female subordination vary greatly, sexual asymmetry is 
presently a universal fact of human social life [emphasis mine] , (3) 



12 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fox 



Setting aside the critiques of these scholars for the moment, we now 
turn to an analysis of de Beauvoir's contributions to their scholarship. 

The Anthropology of Women and Simone De Beauvoir 

The publication of two works of collected essays, one in 1974 — 
Woman, Culture and Society — and the other in 1975 — Toward an Anthro- 
pology of Women — marked the formal initiation of Anthropology of 
Women as a subfield of anthropology. Acknowledging their debt to de 
Beauvoir in their introduction to the first collection, Rosaldo and 
Lamphere ask: 

Why is Woman "The Other"? Are women universally the 
"second sex"? Like Simone de Beauvoir, who raised these 
questions in what must remain, one of the most articulate 
and penetrating essays yet written on women's position in 
human societies, we ask them not simply out of some sort 
of abstract, intellectual curiosity, but because we are search- 
ing for ways to think about ourselves. (1) 

The essays in both volumes share de Beauvoir's thesis that one is 
not born but, rather, becomes Other, marking the role that culture plays 
in producing sexual stratification. As activists, they also shared the view 
that research on women's lives across distinct cultures could be useful 
in advocating social change for American women. Rosaldo and Lamphere 
echo de Beauvoir's belief that women can achieve equality primarily 
through independent economic production, which has the power to 
transform the symbolic perception of women as Other (Evans). They 
proclaim : 

Change must proceed in two directions. To begin, it would seem 
imperative to integrate men into the domestic sphere, giving 
them an opportunity to share in the socialization of children as 
well as the more mundane domestic tasks. What is more, the 
cross-cultural evidence of the importance of female participa- 
tion in, and control of, the products of economic production 
indicates that women's status will be elevated only when they 
participate equally with men in the public world of work. (14) 

As I will discuss below, this emphasis on economic liberation as the 
most important feature of change was not shared by all of the Anthro- 
pology of Women scholars. Their different theoretical underpinnings 
produced some rather varied explanations for the origins of women's 



The Mind's Eye 13 



Diana J. Fox 



inequality and influenced their proposals for change. Still, two of de 
Beauvoir's ideas in particular emerge throughout the essays of Anthro- 
pology of Women scholars: ( 1 ) the universal association of women with 
nature and (2) the twin concepts of transcendence and immanence 
(Nielsen 205). 

According to de Beauvoir, "The category of the Other is as primor- 
dial as consciousness itself. In the most primitive societies, in the most 
ancient mythologies, one finds the expression of a duality — that of the 
Self and the Other, . . . Otherness is a fundamental category of human 
thought" (xxii-xxiii). De Beauvoir elaborated on this Hegelian idea by 
developing the important insight, followed by the Anthropology of 
Women scholars, that the Self/Other distinction has a gendered dimen- 
sion, The symbolic male association with Self is the result of "transcen- 
dence," or society's view that men can rise above the constraints of 
biology to participate in the world of culture, politics and economics. 
Permanence refers to society's perception that women remain in social 
roles tied to their reproductive capacities: 

Woman has ovaries, a uterus; these peculiarities imprison her 
in her subjectivity, circumscribe her within the limits of her own 
nature, ft is often said that she thinks with her glands. Man 
superbly ignores the fact that his anatomy also includes glands, 
such as the testicles, and that they secrete hormones. He thinks 
of his body as a direct and normal-connection with the world, 
which he believes he apprehends objectively, whereas he re- 
gards the body of woman as a hindrance, a prison, weighed 
down by everything peculiar to it. . . . Thus humanity is male 
and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to hurt; 
she is not regarded as an autonomous being (xxi-xxii). 

The contrast between transcendence and permanence emerges out of 
de Beauvoir's assumption of an a -priori opposition integral to Western 
thought: culture as opposed to nature. 1 elaborate on this idea in the 
Following section, where we explore rhe ideas of two of the most influ- 
ential Anthropology of Women scholars, Sherry Ortner and Michele 
Rosaldo, who incorporated these two fundamental tenets of Beauvoirian 
thuught into their own studies." 

Simone de Beauvoir's Influence on Sherry Ortner 

Sherry Ortner is perhaps the best known of the Anthropology of 
Women scholars outside the field of anthropology, and therefore I will 



14 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fox 



concentrate predominantly on her work. Omier's early contribution 
was her attempt to document, a symbolic, structural relationship be- 
tween the status of men and women, which could explain women's 
subordination across history and cultures, in her influential article "Is 
Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?" Ortner argues that in all 
societies, symbolic configurations representing human thought pat- 
terns associate women with nature and men with culture. The idea 
that human patterns ol thought are manifested in the symbolism of 
cultural texts was not new to Ortner or de B eau voir. It is found in French 
structuralist thought, particularly in the work of Claude Levi-Strauss, 
whose ideas influenced de Beauvoir and Ortner. De Beauvoir knew 
Levi-Strauss, and in a footnote thanks him for Furnishing her with proofs 
of his work, "which, among others, I have used liberally in Pan II" (xxiii 
n.4). In her introduction to The Second Sex, cte Beauvoir quotes a passage 
from Levi-Strauss's "profound work" The Elementary Structure of Kinship 
(1949). Levi-Strauss argues that passage from the state of Nature to the 
state of Culture is marked by man's ability to 

"view biological relations as a series of contrasts; duality, alter- 
nation, opposition, and symmetry, whether under definite or 
vague forms, constitute not so much phenomena to be ex- 
plained as fundamental and immediately given data of social 
reality." (qtd. in de Beauvoir xxiii) 

Here, Levi-Strauss contends that all societies create cultural mean- 
ing out of human biological facts such as age and sex differences. Thus, 
de Beauvoir's statement, mentioned above, that "in the most primitive 
societies, in the most ancient mythologies, one finds the expression of a 
duality — that of the self and the Other" — is a Levi-Straussian idea, with 
precursors, of course, in Western thought. It is worthwhile to look deeper 
into Levi-Strauss's ideas to understand better how de Beauvoir and later 
Ortner build their argument lor the "woman-as-Other-in-nature" and 
"man-as-Self-in-culture" opposition. 

Levi-Strauss sought societal constructs in the "deep structures" of 
the mind (which he never really clarified) and in allegorical motifs as 
they were manifested in mythology. He argued that mythology, par- 
ticularly cosmological stories of creation, is a realm of cultural produc- 
tion expressing conflicts fundamental to the human condition. Human 
beings articulate the conflicts of existence in terms of binary opposi- 
tions reflecting human patterns of thought as revealed thruugh the con- 
dition of mind, Examples of such conflicts incfude the sacred and the 



The Mind's Eye 15 



Diana J. Fox 



profane; nature and culture; good and evil; the raw and the cooked; 
and, of course, male and f emale. In mythology, the journeys of a mythic 
hero, heroine or trickster inevitably result in contests of spectacular 
proportions. These contests dramatize the universal conflicts human 
beings face as members of social groups. Culture is the symbolic system 
of meaning, the adaptive mechanism through which solutions are sought 
to the challenges of survival and the intricacies of human relationships 
with each other and with other beings. The resolution of the contest, 
typically In favor of the hero/heroine, inscribes a set of actions that 
henceforth mediate between one horn of the opposition and the other. 
The process of cooking, for example, falls in the realm of social reality. 
As such, it is the symbolic (cultural) practice that transforms raw, natu- 
ral a fid profane resources into cooked, cultural and sacred food. Since 
mythology is sacred, the resolutions to conflicts enshrine a moral order 
obtaining the weight of supernatural truth through ritual practice. 

Building on Levi-Strauss's structuralist assumptions, first de 
Beau voir, then Ortner argued that the cross-cultural association of males 
with culture and females with nature is an extension of the Self/Other 
dualism. The male Self is both valorized and normalized through his 
triumph over nature and association with culture, while the female 
Other, through the act of childbirth, is associated with nature and, 
through this association, devalued. Society "makes sense" ol biological 
relations, beginning with birth, sacred naming ceremonies and other 
postpartum rites of passage, in which cultural practices mediate the op- 
position between male and female. A child, born of nature (read: woman) 
and lacking culture, becomes a human person through ritual acts of 
socialization. Marriage arrangements, too, as the social practices pre- 
ceding birth, highlight the opposition between male and female as en- 
demic to human society. De Beauvoir says, "Women . . . have never 
composed a separate group set up on its own account over against the 
male grouping"; instead, citing Levi-Strauss: '"The reciprocal bond ba- 
sic to marriage is not set up between men and women, but between 
men and men by means of women, who are only the principal occasion 
for it'" (71). This is Levi-Strauss's famous "exchange of women" thesis 
wherein women are exchanged as symbols ol nature to perpetuate cul- 
ture by extending social ties through marriage. For de Beauvoir, mar- 
riage and birth rituals demonstrate how female and nature, and male 
and culture, become woven together through the fabric of myth in so- 
cieties around the world, as universal, symbolic constructs. Human be- 
ings can maintain the moral order as long as they reproduce the actions 



16 TheMind'sEye 



Diana J. Fox 



of mythical protagonists in their everyday behaviors to ensure society's 
continued existence. In so doing, people invest the opposition between 
male and female with renewed Force and commitment, thereby main- 
taining sexual stratification. The ultimate risk of ignoring mythological 
precepts is the destruction of society itself.' 

As Willi the other Anthropology of Women scholars, Ortner gener- 
ated analytical explanations as the foundation for political programs for 
change. Since the nature of solutions reflects the manner in which prob- 
lems are described, the type of change proposed by the scholars of the 
new subfield followed from their explanations of the existence oi the 
universal inferiority of women. For Ortner, the location of this inferior- 
ity is in the symbolic constructions on which society is built. Therefore, 
change cannot come about merely by instituting social structural trans- 
formations. The problem, says Ortner, lies at the level of culture, "taken 
generically as a special sort of process in the world" (69), Subsequently, 
any kind of transformation will lie in the realm of consciousness, affect- 
ing entrenched beliefs in a feminine psyche (as de Beauvoirsaid, "think- 
ing with her glands"), a state of mind that conditions women to accept 
their cultural depreciation through their association with nature. Change 
requires nothing less than a complete reconfiguration of symbols in- 
vested with new authority 

The notion of a female psyche flowing from biological constraints, 
which gives rise to and reinforces women's roles, reflects de Beauvoir's 
notion of "permanence." Today, attempts to explain women's social 
roles through biological and physiological processes are rightfully criti- 
cized as "esscniialist" thinking — thinking that reduces the complex- 
ity of sociocultural processes to biological "givens." What distinguishes 
de Beauvoir and Ortner from essentialist claims is their shared un- 
derstanding that the association ol women with nature is symbolic, 
not literal. It is in the nature of the symbols themselves that the process 
of cultural change lakes place, and through which human beings 
create the referents that produce meaning, in one particular direc- 
tion and not in another. 

Mkhelc Rosaldo also employs the fundamental tenets of structural- 
ism. She is similarly concerned with why women have become linked 
to nature and men lo culture, How is it, in de Beauvoir's words, that 
man "superbly ignores the fact that his anatomy also includes glands"? 
Her response, as we will see below, revolves around the relations of 
production and the organization of work. 



The Mind's Eye 17 



Diana J. Fox 



Simone de Beauvoir's Influence on Michele Rosaldo 

In her chapter "Woman, Culture and Society: A Theoretical Over- 
view," Rosaldo argues that everywhere women lack culturally valued 
authority. To explain this phenomenon, she proposes an analytical model 
that relates "recurrent aspects of psychology and cultural and social or- 
ganization to an opposition between the 'domestic' orientation of women 
and the extra-domestic or 'public' ties that, in most societies, are prima- 
rily available to men" (17, 18). Rosaldo also insists on the universality 
of women's association with the domestic realm and men with the pub- 
lic realm, stating that "the complexities of particular cases do not un- 
dermine our global generalizations" (35). Drawing from more than ten 
ethnographic case studies that support this distinction, she states that 
the association of men with production and women with reproduction 
is the most important dichotomy that societies employ to distinguish 
between men and women. Unconvinced by Levi-Strauss's "deep struc- 
tures" of mind, Rosaldo instead emphasizes the organization of work 
and the sexual division of labor as the driving forces behind sexual strati- 
fication. 

Rosaldo identifies six consequences of this domestic/public spiit, 
but here I will focus on only one that is most closely linked to de 
Beauvoir's explanation of the distinction between immanence and tran- 
scendence. In marking this distinction, de Beauvoir states: 

Man assures the repetition of Life while transcending Life 
through Existence: by this transcendence he creates values that 
deprive pure repetition [the permanence of domestic fabor] of 
all value. ... In setting himself up as sovereign, he is sup- 
ported by the complicity of woman herself. (64) 

One of the most significant consequences of man's transcendence and 
woman's immanence is the tendency of society to regard women as 
anomalies because of their biological functions and culturally devalued 
domestic roles. As anomalies, women are aberrations from what is clean 
and good; they are sources of ritual pollution and creators of disorder. 
Menstrual taboos, for instance, which restrict women from coming into 
contact with food or ritual items during menarche, exemplify the dan- 
ger inherent in women. 10 Mythology is frequently the most common 
realm for the expression of the dangers of the social destruction that 
ensues when women gain control over ritual paraphernalia. Many myths 
tell a similar story: "At the time of Creation, the women ruled, keeping 
the men in subjection and fear until they discovered the source of fe- 



18 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fox 



male power and decided to wrench it from [hem (Bamberger 271). The 
myths often explain that women have committed some egregious error 
by neglecting their sacred responsibilities, which enables men to 
discover the women's secrets. Once they do, the men obtain public 
authority and control over the sacred items. Rosaldo is certainly 
interested in these misogynist myths as venues to articulate the origins 
of the domestic/public split, and she concurs that mythology and the 
relationships therein are symbolic receptacles for sexual stratification. 
Still, she does not support the view that their symbolism reflects inher- 
ent thought patterns that are responsible for sexual stratification. 

Although Rosaldo's argument is universalis!, she is nonetheless care- 
ful to point out that not all economic production tan be associated with 
men in the public sphere, since women's economic activities around 
the world are extremely varied. While some productive activities occur 
in the home, others take women outside the home: Reproductive and 
productive spheres overlap. While she does not attempt to explain the 
circumstances that permit women in some societies to participate in 
highly valued public production, her intimation that the public/private 
dichotomy may not be a universal pattern anticipated a more widespread 
rejection of the dichotomy, which predominates today. The rejection 
emerges from ethnographic evidence of the multiple, intersecting spheres 
ol male and female life and a more general renunciation of binary oppo- 
sites as explanatory models. 

The universal explanations of the 1 970s gave way to a new locus in 
feminist studies in anthropology in the 1980s and the rejection of 
Beauvoirian influence. It is to this decade that we now turn. 

Feminist Anthropology and the Break from Universalism 

Feminist Anthropology became the new term for Anlhropoiogy of 
Women in the 1980s. British feminist Anthropologist Henrietta Moore 
explains the difference between the two, stating, "This modern feminist 
anthropology takes as its subject, not women, but gender relations. It 
docs not purport to speak for women, although it certainly speaks ex- 
tensively about women" (186). Feminist anthropological inquiry of the 
1980s was shaped both by an explicitly activist perspective and by the 
heightening awareness on the part of the white, middle-class femi- 
nists who inspired the Anthropology of Women scholarship that there 
was more than one feminism (188). It would be a mistake, however, 
to assume that feminist theory prior to the 1980s was homogeneous, 
since it consisted of a range of explanations and solutions to gender 



The Mind's Eye 19 



Diana J. Fox 



stratification based on diverging political and economic orientations (lib- 
eral feminism, Marxist feminism, socialist feminism, radical feminism, 
etc.). However, the feminisms of the 1980s were of a different sort. 

In the 1980s, the voices of Native American feminists, African 
American womanists," Third World feminists and lesbian feminists 
finally penetrated the dominant feminist discourse of white, hetero- 
sexual, middle-class feminism, in part because of increased criticism 
from these other circles of the narrowness of that discourse. A number 
of developments were taking place within the discipline that coincided 
with and supported the emergence of these new forms of feminism: 
Anthropology departments were hiring more women ol color; the in- 
fluence of anthropologists trained in Africa, Asia and Latin America 
on North American anthropologists increased; an "anthropology of 
the West" took form that lent a crucial eye to the values and beliefs 
undergirding anthropology itself, as a form of cultural practice; and 
global women's movements received greater prominence through 
United Nations-sponsored international conferences and publications. 
To its credit, Feminist Anthropology embraced these developments, 
asserting itself as a polyvocal forum for feminist theoretical advance- 
ments, connected to wider social and cultural transformations. Its pro- 
ponents placed the subfield at the center of emerging ideas, rather 
than relegating it to the margins. 

The theoretical focus of researchers rapidly departed both from the 
universalistk analysis of women's status as Other and Irom generalized 
statements about the existence of sexual asymmetry. Research shifted 
back to the cultural particularist perspective, but this time inspired both 
by multiple feminisms and by poststrttcturalist deconstruction theory. 
Dualisms came under attack as overly simplistic and ethnocentric as 
part of the general disdain for "master narratives," or "totalizing claims" — 
those theories that sought to explain the societal transformations through 
one particular model. Researchers collected evidence that binary oppo- 
sitions are not universal features of human thought and that culture 
and nature are not oppositions reflecting truth, but are culturally shaped 
ideas rooted in Western thought about nature, extending back to classi- 
cal antiquity. According to British philosopher Kate Soper: 

The Ionian philosophers of the sixth and seventh centuries B.C. 
already presupposed a difference between natural or "self-oc- 
curring" things and the products of skill or artifice, while by 
the fifth century a nature-culture demarcation is at least im- 
plicitly at work in the distinction between nomas (that which is 



20 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fox 

a convention of culture or socially derived norms or law) and 
physis (that which is naturally determined). (37) ,J 

These new feminist anthropologists oriented their research to test 
the idea that all cultures distinguished between nature and culture, male 
and female, domestic and public, production and reproduction. Rosaldo 
herself, along with Jane Collier, another Anthropology of Women 
scholar, returned both to the field and to ethnographic accounts of Aus- 
tralian Aborigines, American, Asian and African hunter- gatherers and 
hunter-horticulturists to conclude that 

"Themes of motherhood and sexual reproduction are far less 
central to such people's conceptions of 'woman' than we had 
assumed. ... We found that neither women nor men in very 
simple societies celebrate women as nurturers or women's 
unique capacity to give life. . . . Woman the Fertile, Woman 
the Mother and Source of All Life was, quite remarkably, ab- 
sent from all available accounts." (qtd. in Moore 29) 

Other evidence demonstrated how men in some societies through 
ritual both participate in reproduction and identify with the physiologi- 
cal [unctions of the female body. Couvade refers to "a husband's obser- 
vance of food taboos, restriction of ordinary practices, and in some cases 
seclusion during his wife's delivery and postpartum period" (Moore 29). 
In some groups in New Guinea, for instance, men practice ritual blood- 
letting to associate themselves symbolically with menstruation, and they 
temporarily cease the practice when their wives are pregnant to sym- 
bolize male pregnancy (30). These examples demonstrate that univer- 
sally valued symbolic bifurcations do not exist but, instead, are culture 
specific. Even in Western societies, the male/female duafism itself is 
challenged by the growing recognition of imersexed individuals," as 
well as by cultures with "third genders" (such as the Sioux Berdache or 
the Hijras of India) from which flow social roles neither fully feminine 
nor fully masculine. 

We find the repudiation of these universal constructs in the work 
ol two theorists who represent the cultural particularists' approach to 
understanding women's status and roles cross-culturally, Chandra T. 
Mohanty and Lila Abu-Lughod. 

Mohanty is an Indian sociologist whose impact on Feminist An- 
thropology was particularly influential with the publication of her 
edited volume Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. She levies 



The Mind's Eye 21 



Diana J Fox 



a serious critique of Western feminism by warning against the gen- 
eralizations wrought by an overzealous universalism that ignores the 
particular plights ami — significantly — the accomplishments of the di- 
versity of women living in Third World countries. Paradoxically, 
though, de Beauvnir's concept of woman as Other enters into 
Mohanty's analysis, though in this instance it is not men who see 
women as Other, but privileged Western while women who perform 
this othering (symbolic simplification) of non-Western women of 
color. 

This process has produced what Mohanty calls the "average Third 
World woman." In her ubiquitous and oft-quoted statement, Mohanty 
claims that Western feminist texts have produced the Third World 
woman as a singular monolithic subject: 

This average Third World woman leads an essentially truncated 
life based on her feminine gender (read: sexually constrained) 
and her being "third world" (read: ignorant, poor, uneducated, 
tradition-bound, domestic, family-oriented, victimized, etc.). 
This, I suggest, is in contrast to the (implicit) self-representation 
of Western women as educated, as modern, as having control 
over their own bodies and sexualities, and the freedom to make 
their own decisions. (56, 57) 

Mohanty also notes that this process, of othering is not restricted to 
Western, middle-class white women, but also occurs in the writings of 
middle-class urban African and Asian scholars who codify their own 
middle-class status as the norm, thereby relegating poor women of their 
own nationality as Other. 

Mohanty argues for the creation of new Third World feminisms 
whose task would be the generation of context-specific perspectives of 
women's conditions. Such perspectives would work against this reduc- 
tionist analysis by revealing that women are not merely victims, but 
actors with complex and variable experiences who resist, challenge and 
subvert the contradictions present in their everyday lives (72). Mohanty's 
validation of the significance of Third World feminisms prompted femi- 
nist anthropologists to amass ethnographic data on the subject, explor- 
ing the multiple avenues for feminist expression. Although Mohanty 
carefully claims to avoid the same pitfalls she condemns, stating that 
"Western feminism is by no means ... a monolith" (52), she unfortu- 
nately falls into the trap of turning Western feminism into a narrow, 
homogeneous entity, as her analysis of the implicit self-identification of 



22 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fox 



Western women demonstrates. Even though she does not fully heed 
her own warning, Mohanty contributes to leminist anthropological un- 
derstanding of the negative impacts of culturally assumed categories. 

Feminist Anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod succeeds where Mohanty 
falls short. Her description of Bedouin women's poetry as a form of 
social critique and political consciousness underscores the role feminist 
ethnography can play in uncovering and dispelling the mutual misun- 
derstandings that exist between Western feminists and Third World femi- 
nists. Commenting on the different approaches between Anthropology 
of Women scholars and Feminist Anthropology of the 1980s and early 
1990s, Louise Lamphere notes that in 1974, when her edited volume 
Woman, Culture and Society was published. Bedouin women would sim- 
ply have been thought of as "confined to the domestic sphere" (73). 
However, Bedouin women's poetry reveals richly textured lives, 
which do not fit neatly into a domestic/public dichotomy. Abu- 
Lughod demonstrates how this poetry constitutes a dissident and 
subversive discourse, which women recite publicly to express their 
feelings about divorce and husbands who take another wife or the 
conflicting sentiments over arranged marriages. Bedouin poetry reveals 
the depths of women's feelings, standing in contrast to conventional 
expectations of female modesty and shame. Abu-Lughod explains that 
ritual poetry is a response against a tradition with "an obsession with 
morality and an overzealous adherence to the ideology of honor. . . . 
Poetry reminds people of another way of being and encourages, as it 
reflects, another side of experience" (259). The use of such a highly 
valued cultural form to express taboo sentiments demonstrates that 
Bedouin women are active agents, analyzing and reinterpreting their 
society's mainstream values. They are not passive victims of patriarchy, 
immanently in a domestic, glandular realm. 

As the deconstruction of "woman" as a viable category of analysis 
ensued throughout the 1980s, another trend simultaneously began to 
build momentum. The international women's rights movement further 
facilitated the cross-cultural communication among feminists around 
the world, Cross-cultural communication was already occurring, as 
noted, through the influence of Third World feminisms on Feminist 
Anthropology's critical assessment of the Anthropology of Women, In- 
teractions occurred through scholarly writing and academic conferences, 
and through the everyday interactions between anthropologists and in- 
formants in the fieldwork process, as feminist anthropologists began to 
study women's movements through participant observation. The in- 



The Mind's Eye 23 



Diana J. Fox 



ternational women's rights movement introduced additional modes of 
communication through United Nations-sponsored international 
women's rights conferences and the organizing that took place through 
these venues. The conferences also inspired follow-up activist organiz- 
ing through partnerships between northern nongovernmental organi- 
zations (NGOs) and southern NGOs and, increasingly, by the exchange 
of stories and strategies through the World Wide Web. 

These multiple levels of cross-cultural communication continue to 
have important effects: (I) They validate the view that there are some 
important social structural commonalities that shape women's roles and 
statuses across cultures; (2) they make possible the building of bridges 
or "the construction ol global feminism" — without presupposing its ex- 
istence; and (3) they highlight those areas of difficult and sometimes 
impenetrable differences as subjects for discussion. Above all, these cross- 
cultural dialogues began a process through which feminists could begin 
to explore the relationship between similarities and differences, while 
keeping at the forefront the most important common goal of all: that 
women's rights must be regarded as human rights, not special rights 
(read: marginalized rights), whose status within international lawmak- 
ing, monitoring and enforcement arenas mirrors women's secondary 
status within particular societies. Women's human rights activists noted 
that human rights law reflects a "gender myopia ... by conceptualizing 
human rights as 'men's rights,' thereby 'ghettoizing' those bodies re- 
sponsible for women's rights" (O'Hare 364). 

Feminist anthropologists in the late 1990s spoke of universal 
women's human rights as an important ideal to attain. The return to 
Beauvoirian macrolevel analysis is an important component of this ef- 
fort to articulate links among local, regional and national social move- 
ments and to achieve the objective of an international human rights 
that is truly universal in its scope. 

Women's Human Rights: A Different Kind of Universalism 

This concluding section examines the role of Feminist Anthropol- 
ogy in the international women's human rights movement. This role is 
best explained as a break from the dominant, historical position toward 
international human rights that anthropology as a discipline has em- 
braced from the time of Boas until the early 1990s. In 1947, the Ameri- 
can Anthropological Association (AAA) rejected the universality of 
international human rights norms, positing that the Universal Dec- 
laration on Human Rights (UDHR) enumerated rights and freedoms 



24 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fox 



that were culturally, ideologically and politically nonuniversal (Preis 
288), The AAA argued that such rights and freedoms contained a West- 
ern, Judaeo-Christian bias, and therefore could not he regarded as 
universal and inalienable (Preis 288). 

This criticism of the Declaration ol Human Rights mirrored the per- 
spectives of both ethical and cultural relativism promulgated by Franz 
Boas' anticolonial anthropology. The ethical relativist view went hand 
in hand with the cultural relativist effort to debunk cultural evolution- 
ism and the sweeping moral condemnation it levied on peoples who 
were not of Western European descent. As we have seen in our own 
recent history with the uneven condemnation of regimes violating hu- 
man rights from Cuba to China, Bosnia and Rwanda, the ideals of hu- 
man rights are constrained by political motives. 

However, partly because feminist anthropology is both an activist 
and a scholarly endeavor and partly because feminist anthropologists 
were faced with the inconsistencies of ethical relativism vis-a-vis femi- 
nism — a position that requires moral judgments — the subfield emerged 
as a leading anthropological voice in favor of universal human rights. 
Feminist anthropologists could not reject human rights ideals on the 
claim that they might not be implemented justly. Instead, they worked 
to make mainstream human rights programs sympathetic to women's 
concerns — concerns such as equality, violence against women and re- 
productive freedoms— and, in so doing, to promote international 
women's human rights.' 4 Feminist anthropologists in the 1990s chal- 
lenged the ethical relativist view of detachment, on the grounds that 
they must make moral judgments about cultural processes that are not 
their own. They argue that "it is simply unacceptable to subject women 
to subordinate treatment that enslaves them to men" and that "human 
rights is about regulated civilized behavior and conduct toward all hu- 
man beings" (Beyani 304). In other words, feminist anthropology has 
embraced the ideal and the challenge for the equitable, universalistic 
implementation of human rights. 

In this sense, feminist anthropologists of the 1990s returned to 
Simone de Beauvoir's position that the Ireedom of women rests on their 
willingness to take seriously their moral commitment to the whole of 
human freedom. De Beauvoir wrote about the protection of freedom 
and the work of liberation as a "responsibility of existence," condemn- 
ing Ihose who choose to implement their values inconsistently as vio- 
lating that responsibility. De Beauvoir concurred with Hegel's view that 
"the citizen acquires his ethical dignity in transcending himself toward 



The Mind's Bye 25 



Diana J. Fox 



the universal" (615), but she abhorred the choice of "man," who, in his 
relations with "woman," asserts his "right to desire and pleasure," en- 
tering into a realm where his morality no longer applies. Prostitution, 
says de Beauvoir. is "the most flagrant example of this duplicity ... for 
it is his demand [for pleasure] that creates the supply" (613). De 
Beauvoir's view is certainly not a relativist one; rather, it is a view that 
requires the universal responsibilities of the citizen to influence the choices 
we make in our individual lives .She provides the moral grounds on which 
it becomes impossible for feminist anthropologists to condemn their own 
society but not another if freedom is at stake. Actions in the name of 
freedom follow from the ontological view that all human beings share a 
moral status that requires consistency of practice for its realization. Al- 
though feminist anthropologists pursuing women's human rights issues 
do not explicitly connect themselves with de Beauvoir, she introduces a 
valuable theoretical framework for the new position of feminist anthro- 
pology with respect to rights and responsibilities. 

At the same time that there is a return to universal concerns, femi- 
nist anthropologists face a significant challenge: They do not want to 
fall back into the trap of producing "monolithic subjects," as Mohanty 
points out, or to impose Western constructs on the interpretation of 
non-Western cultures. The question guiding feminist anthropological 
research today is how to support universal women's human rights while 
concurrently recognizing the diversity- of cultures. Such a question car- 
ries weight outside of feminist concerns into the arena of culture and 
human rights in general, demanding that supporters of human rights 
pay attention both to cultural particulars and to the fundamentals of 
human dignity and freedom, in order to achieve this goal, the feminist 
anthropological position views human rights as both "a defining and 
defined set of universal values [emphasis mine]," whose power over 
human conduct depends on norms that are consistently recognized, 
implemented and regulated (Preis 310). As a defining set of values, 
universal human rights norms must continue to be created through 
cross-cultural dialogue, drawing from locally preexisting notions of 
human dignity and respect that all cultures contain. Even where hu- 
man rights are being blatantly violated, the contradictory nature of 
culture as a process indicates that values of human freedom will exist 
somewhere in the indigenous philosophies of most cultures. Values of 
freedom and dignity coexist with practices that stratify, discriminate 
and oppress. 

Rebecca Cook, a leading legal scholar in the women's human rights 



26 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fox 



movement, argues that women's dignity, freedoms and equality are 
clearly not universally practiced: 

The nature and extent of violations of women's international 
human rights continue to be cruei and pervasive. In many 
countries, violations remain not simply unremedied, but un- 
noticed as discriminatory or as an affront to human dignity. 
This widespread failure to honor international obligations poses 
a challenge to the credibility, universality, and justice of inter- 
national human rights law. (31) 

Given the ubiquity of the violations, it is crucial to explore what steps 
are necessary to ensure that women's human rights "become a part of 
the legal culture of a given society," such that they strike responsive 
chords in the general public consciousness (Coomaraswamy 39). This is 
a goal that should be attractive to feminist anthropologists. Their re- 
search methods of fieldwork and participant observation are especially 
well suited to taking on the challenge of carrying "women's voices, in- 
terests, and concerns into the mainstream human rights lawmaking 
arena" (Charlesworth 63), so that the diversity of women's experiences 
in different cultures is introduced into international human rights law 
(Cook 10). In this way, human rights norms can be viewed as part of an 
emerging global culture that includes multiple cultural traditions of 
human freedom. It should be noted, therefore, that universalism does 
not imply cultural uniformity. 

By insisting on the value of cross-cultural dialogues as necessary 
impediments to the abuse of power and its distortionary effects on the 
production of knowledge, feminist anthropology can continue in the 
Boasian tradition while simultaneously exploring the relationship be- 
tween the particular and the universal. Simone de Beauvoir has played 
a crucial role in launching this process by directing our attention to the 
liberatory potential contained in ideas of human freedom with univer- 
sal scope. 

She also insisted on another important insight that should accom- 
pany our increasing emphasis on legal human rights. She realized that 
rights alone cannot emancipate women. In her chapter "The Indepen- 
dent Woman," de Beauvoir acknowledges the significance of the de 
facto, everyday world in which women's circumstances are played out. 
She says, remarking on the legal transformations of her time: 

According to French law, obedience is no longer included 
among the duties of a wife, and each woman citizen has the 



The Mind's Eye 27 



Diana J. Fox 

right to vote; but these civil liberties remain theoretical as long 
as they are unaccompanied by economic freedom. A woman 
supported by a man — wife or courtesan — is not emancipated 
from the male because she has a ballot in her hand; if custom 
imposes less constraint upon her than formerly, the negative 
freedom implied has not profoundly modified her situation; 
she remains bound in her condition of vassalage. (699) 

I would agree with de Beauvoir that economic freedoms are funda- 
mental; yet rights should not be minimized as trivial contributions to 
women's fundamental humanity. If is imperative to explore how law 
and cultural norms mutually affect one another. For de Beauvoir the 
combination of rights and economic liberty arrived at through transfor- 
mation of custom presents one important path toward freedom for 
women. These changes must also be accompanied by the recognition 
that "sameness" and "equality" are not parallel ideas, and that there is 
such a thing as "equality in difference" (731 ). In other words, when de 
Beauvoir stated that "the fact of being a woman loday poses peculiar 
problems for an independent human individual" (682), she not only 
asserted the humanity of the Other but also understood that change 
toward equality must reflect certain differences between men and 
women. Women's human rights law concurs with this view through its 
formal institutionalization of the humanity of women. When interna- 
tional law inscribes protections for women from harmful situations that 
are particular to women, in an effort to uphold their human rights, 
then it reflects equality in difference. 

This recognition in international law emerged through significant 
struggle on the part of protagonists of the women's human rights move- 
ment, including efforts of feminist critiques, Part of this criticism in- 
cludes discriminatory ideas that have shaped the construction of the 
law. This includes the binary opposition between the public and the 
private (or domestic) realms. Feminist legal scholar Ursula O'Hare points 
out that the historical exclusion of women's voices from defining the 
content of human rights discourse has, in turn, meant that human rights 
have evolved along a gendered "fault line" that distinguishes between 
public and private spheres lor the purpose of legal regulation (368). 
This fault line has betrayed women's interests most starkly in protecting 
them against physical, sexual and psychological violence— torture within 
the home. According to O'Hare, "The public/private dichotomy has 
shaped the human rights edifice ... in the theory of state responsibility 
for human rights abuses" (368). 



28 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fax 



Since human rights law has been concerned with restricting the 
exercise of public power, it is the state that has been held responsible 
for human rights abuses. Those abuses occurring in the so-called pri- 
vate sphere by so-called private actors have only recently received at- 
tention by the state. Hilary Charlesworth has argued in "Worlds Apart: 
Public/Private Distinctions in International Law," that maintaining the 
public/private dichotomy serves "'to muffle and often completely si- 
lence the voices of women'" (qtd. in O'Hare 371). Moreover, the 
boundaries between public and private are, in fact, as the feminist 
anthropologists of the 1980s noted, artificial distinctions that obscure 
the fluidity of boundaries between public and domestic life. Catherine 
Mackinnon remarks that upholding concrete distinctions reinforces the 
idea that the state is all there is to power and, in so doing, '"produces an 
exceptionally inadequate definition for human rights when so much ol 
the second-class status of women ... is done by men to women prior to 
express state involvement" (qtd. in O'Hare 369). 

Throughout the 1980s and 1 990s, a number of steps were taken at 
the international level to define violence against women as a human 
rights abuse. General Recommendation No. 19 of the United Nations 
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against 
Women (CEDAW. or "The Women's Convention") states that violence 
against women "seriously inhibits women's ability to enjoy rights and 
freedoms on a basis of equality with men" and reminds states that imple- 
menting their obligations under CEDAW requires them "to take posi- 
tive measures to eliminate all forms of violence against women (O'Hare 
372). Most recently, two international instruments dramatically refrained 
the boundaries of human rights law. In 1993, The European Declara- 
tion of Strategies for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 
Society and, in 1995, the Inter-American Convention on the Preven- 
tion, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women both re- 
flect the understanding that "gender-based violence [is] not the spo- 
radic acts of a few men, but symptomatic of the structural inequality in 
society . . . advancing understanding within the global community ol 
the systematic nature of violence against women"(0'Hare 374). Both 
instruments aim to protect women against acts of violence occurring at 
three levels: the family, the community and the state (375). In so doing, 
we are witness to a rejection of a certain form of universal thinking — 
those models based on binary oppositions that seek to explain all soci- 
eties, and even regulate behavior by law, through an ethnocentrically 
derived model, masquerading as a universal model. This is being 



The Mind's Kye 29 



Diana J. Fax 

replaced, through feminist pressure, with a new form of universal think- 
ing, which contends that ideas that are truly universal in scope are those 
that are consciously created (and absorbed) through attention to gen- 
eral patterns as well as local ones. Anthropologists are more likely to 
accept these types of universal claims as valid, since they do not at- 
tempt to describe patterns of behavior or thought on such a broad level 
that the common features render the details as essentially bereft of sig- 
nificant meaning. 

By elevating violence against women to a human rights abuse, 
the international women's human rights movement has responded 
positively to pressure from feminists by undermining the public/pri- 
vate dichotomy as a reflection of the truth of sociocultural life. Most 
important, the status of women in international law — and therefore 
globally — has shifted dramatically by orchestrating a transformation 
in the status of women from Other to Self. Female human beings are 
increasingly acknowledged alongside male human beings as the nor- 
mative standard by which human rights are developed. The arena of 
women's human rights therefore does address the modern woman's 
"peculiar problems for an independent human individual" that de 
Beauvoir posed (682), 

f would like to suggest that international law can function in soci- 
ety as mythology has functioned, proclaiming a moral order, but in this 
case through secular humanist values cherished as sacred ones. Per- 
haps in time, upholding this moral order will make possible the trans- 
formation of women's status to human beings a customary practice 
through international legal documents. The women's human rights 
movement has the potential to reach new levels of emancipation with 
this self-evident but profound truth that the rights of women are the 
rights of human beings — an insight that Simone de Beauvoir hetd 50 
years ago. 



30 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fax 



Notes 

1 De Beauvoir brought an American slant to the idea of "otherness" 
through the influence of her American lover of 15 years. Nelson Algren, 
who suggested that she look at the position of women as analogous to 
the condition of African American men in segregated America. Later, 
through her friendship with writer Richard Wright and his white wife, 
Ellen, she was convinced that "white men had succeeded in relegating 
both black men and all women" to positions of otherness (Baire xii). 

! First Wave feminism in the 1920s grew out of the late -19th- century 
women's rights movement and the involvement of 19th-century suf- 
fragists with philanthropy. First Wave feminists such as Olive Schreiner, 
Virginia Woolf and Rebecca West emphasized the importance of 
women's material independence from men, women's employment and 
shared domestic responsibilities. The "woman citizen" is generally the 
object of discussion, and writers of the time emphasized a "woman's 
point of view." Second Wave feminism takes as its starling point the 
politics of reproduction, examining the power of reproduction and re- 
productive technologies. Writers such as Kate Millet, Shulamith 
Firestone, Audre Lorde and Andrea Dworkin are associated with this 
Second Wave, though legal, economic and political rights are still im- 
portant, as they were to First Wave feminists (Humm). 

' Part of the book's controversy revolved around the condemnation that 
de Beauvoir "blamed" women for their predicament. This, in combina- 
tion with her nonchalant approach toward her own self-promotion led 
critics to accuse her of misogyny, fnterviews with de Beauvoir through- 
out her life reveal that she neither blamed nor hated women but was a 
staunch advocate for women's rights globally. As f imply in my opening 
remarks about de Beauvoir's own self-depreciation, a more complex 
polemic might examine how the hegemony ol patriarchy finds its way 
into the consciousness of even its most vigorous resisters. 

4 in January 1 999, the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Second 
Sex, the French sociologist and de Beauvoir scholar Christine Delphy 
and feminist film critic Sylvie Chaperon organized an international con- 
ference in Paris with the explicit aim of bringing de Beauvoir into the 
center ol scholarly and intellectual discourse in France, The highly pub- 
licized event was funded by The Culture Ministry, which, according to 



The Mind's Eye 31 



Diana J, Fox 



Chaperon, "finally came up with some money, but at first we were treated 
with contempt. . . . Someone — I won't say who — said, 'Who cares about 
de Beauvoir?'" (Chaperon, qtd. in The New York Times in "The World 
Reintroduces de Beauvoir to the French." 1/30/99). This article was 
first presented in a shorter form as a paper at that conference, where 
the organizers provided a detailed overview of the enormous difficulty 
they faced in convincing French funding sources of the relevancy of the 
conference to French intellectual concerns. 

5 As a graduate student in anthropology, I left the University of Arizona 
in 1991, since my interest in Feminist Anthropology was not regarded 
at that time as a legitimate subdisdpline. Soon after 1 feft, the depart- 
ment hired a feminist anthropologist, At the University of Massachu- 
setts, Amherst, where f continued my training, Feminist Anthropology 
was embraced; however, there was no acknowledgement of the influ- 
ence of Simone de Beauvoir in a class I took on the history of Feminist 
Anthropology. This history began in 1974, without any historical pre- 
cursors. 

s This is especially the case within American anthropology, where schol- 
ars have regarded universals not only with discomfort but, on occasion, 
as morally indefensible, fn fact, universals have been so minimized that 
"the observation that something doesn't occur among the Bongo Bongo 
count[s] as a major contribution to ethnographic knowledge" (Erasmus, 
qtd. in Brown 1 ). (The "Bongo Bongo" is anthropology's colonial rendi- 
tion of the generic tribe.) 

7 Another line of analysis could legitimately argue that this caution was 
also a form of sexism. The insights of Anthropology of Women scholars 
were not regarded as significant enough to integrate into the main- 
stream of anthropology. The male bias they uncovered was also regarded 
as an extension of their own bias: Their effort to place gender in the 
center of cultural analysis was viewed as a set of politically charged 
interests rather than a fact of human existence. That is, gender, as a 
category of analysis, was not regarded as central to the formation of 
culture, as are economy, politics, kinship structure, religion, environ- 
ment and other conventional anthropological frameworks. 

* Just as the Anthropology of Women scholars drew on Simone de 
Beauvoir, she in turn relied heavily on much of the same ethnographic 



32 The Mind's Eye 



Diana J. Fox 



data that ihey later criticized as androcentric. This is one of the ironies 
of the work of the Anthropology of Women scholars. They employed 
data to support their views, which they also criticized for the methodol- 
ogy and theoretical slant it contained. They did draw substantially from 
Margaret Mead's work, which while problematic on certain levels can- 
not be accused of androcentrism. De Beauvoir, however, seems to have 
overlooked Mead, who, prior to de Beauvoir, saw "sex" as a problem- 
atic category whose meaning is not immediately given in the world. 
Her study Coming of Age in Samoa, first published in 1928, explored young 
girls' experience of adolescence in order to demonstrate that adoles- 
cence is not universally experienced as a time of "storm and stress" but 
is shaped by culture, which in turn shapes the way boys and girls un- 
dergo adolescence. Although Mead's ethnographic data has been heavily 
criticized, she nonetheless raised the question of the cultural construc- 
tion of sex. 

9 We see examples of this kind of thinking every day. For instance, in 
March 2000, when the Vermont legislature heard citizen responses to 
the State Supreme Court's ruling that the rights and benefits of mar- 
riage should extend to gay couples, the testimony against the ruling 
came from the religious right, arguing that the court had broken God's 
law as written in the Bible, that domestic partnership is a heterosexual 
arrangement. Protesters fear that the ruling will bring on the collapse of 
society. In this instance, the Bible is the mythological text proclaiming 
the moral order. It serves very much the same function in preserving 
social stratification as those mythological texts that support the subor- 
dination of women. 

10 In the 1980s, feminist anthropologists argued that menstrual taboos 
do not always indicate that women represent dangerous anomalies and 
their menstrual blood is not always regarded as a form of ritual pollu- 
tion that threatens the survival of the group. Instead, danger can also 
imply power. There is evidence to suggest that early accounts often 
misread the meaning of taboos associated with menses, attributing pol- 
lution rather than power (Bonvillain) . 

1 1 Alice Walker first used the term "womanist" as a way of distinguish- 
ing a form of feminism that recognized how race intersected with gen- 
der to shape the experiences African American women had with sex- 
ism. The dominant liberal feminism ignored race as a category of analy- 
sis and therefore was not universally meaningful to women of color. 



The Mind's Eye 53 



Diana J. Fox 



12 As Kate Soper further states, "An opposition . , , between the natural 
and the human has been axiomatic to Western thought, and remains a 
presupposition of ail its philosophical, scientific, moral and aesthetic 
discourse, even if the history of these discourses is in large part a history 
ol the differing constructions we are asked to place upon it" (e.g., the 
ideas of Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger). There has also been 
a tradition of monism— that is, the idea that no absolute duality exists 
between nature and culture, as expressed, for instance, by Noam 
Chomsky. Chomsky's view that the differences between other animals 
and us are differences of degree is an idea formulated in direct response 
to the body of duallstic theory (Soper 37-56). 

"In recent years, anthropologists and others have discussed the preva- 
lence of individuals born with ambiguous sex characteristics, In the 
United States, as well as in other industrialized countries, intersexed 
individuals are typically operated on at birth to make them into one or 
the other sex, However, in societies without these technological capa- 
bilities, intersexed individuals are more prevalent and are afforded par- 
ticular social roles (some that are highly valued, others that are not). 
Operations in the U.S. do not address other forms of sexual ambiguity 
that develop with the onset of puberty. Some figures estimate that one 
to two percent of the world's population is born with or develops am- 
biguous sex characteristics (see Lingua Franca, April 1 999). 

14 Following Charlesworth, I use the term "women's human rights" to 
refer both to women-specific rights such as the right to reproductive 
freedoms and to general human rights norms, applied to wumen 
(Charlesworth 77 n.4). 



34 The Mind s Eye 



Diana J. Fox 



Works Cited 

Abu-Lughod, Lila. Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society. 
Berkeley: U of California P, 19S6. 

Baire, Deirdre. Introduction, The Second Sex. By Simone de Beauvoir. 
New York: Vintage, 1989. 

Bamberger, Joan. "The Myth of Matriarchy: Why Men Rule in Primi- 
tive Society." Woman, Culture and Society. Ed. Michelle Zimbalist 
Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1974. 

Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. New York: Vintage, 1989. 

Beyani, Chaloka. "Toward a More Effective Guarantee of Women's Rights 
in the African Human Rights System." Human Rights of Women: 
National and International Perspectives. Ed. Rebecca J. Cook. Phila- 
delphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1994. 

Bonvillain, Nancy. Women and Men. Englewood Heights, NJ: 
Prentice, 1995. 

Brown, Donald E. Human Universal!- New York: McGraw, 1991. 

Charlesworth, Hilary. "Worlds Apart: Public/Private Distinctions in 
International Law." Public and Private: Fetninist Legal Debates. Ed. 
Margaret Thorton. Melbourne: Oxford UP, 1995. 

Cook, Rebecca J., ed. Human Rights of Women: National and International 
Perspectives. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1994. 

Coomaraswamy, Radhika. "To Bellow Like a Cow: Women, Ethnicity, 
and the Discourse of Rights." Human Rights of Women: National 
and International Perspectives. Ed. Rebecca J. Cook. Philadelphia: 
U of Pennsylvania P, 1994. 

Evans, Mary. Simone de Beauvoir. London: Tavistock, 1985. 

Hurnm, Maggie, ed. Modern Feminisms: Political, Literary, Cultural. New 
York: Columbia UP, 1992. 

Lamphere, Louise. "The Domestic Sphere of Women and the Public 
World of Men: The Strengths and Limitations of an Anthropo- 
logical Dichotomy." Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Ed. Caroline 
B. Brettell and Carolyn F. Sargent. New Jersey: Prentice, 1986. 

Levi-Strauss, Claude. Les Structures Elementaires de la Parente. Presses 
Universitaires de France, 1949. 

Mohanty, Chandra T, Third World Women and the Polities of Feminism. 
Bloominglon: Indiana UP, 1987. 

Moore, Henrietta L. Feminism and Anthropology. Minneapolis: U of 
Minnesota P, 1988. 



The Mind's Bye 35 



Diana J. Fox 

Nielsen, Joyce McCarl. Sex and Gender in Society: Perspectives on Stratifica- 
tion. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1990. 

O'Hare, Ursula . A. "Realizing Human Rights for Women." Human Rights 
Quarterly 21 (1999): 364-402. 

Ortner, Sherry B. "Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?" Woman, 
Culture and Society. Ed. Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise 
Lamphere. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1974. 

Preis, Belinda-Ann. "Human Rights as Cultural Practice: An Anthro- 
pological Critique." Human Rights Quarterly 18 (1996): 286-31 5. 

Reiter, Rayna, ed. Toward an Anthropology of Women. New York: Monthly 
Review, 1975. 

Rosaldo. Michelle Zimbalist, and Louise Lamphere, Introduction. 
Woman. Culture and Society. Ed. Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and 
Louise Lamphere. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1974. 

Salmon, Merrilee H. "Ethical Considerations in Anthropology and 
Archaeology, or Relativism and Justice for All." Journal of An- 
thropological Research 53 (1997): 47-63. 

Soper, Kate. What Is Nature? Oxford: Blackwell, 1995. 



36 The Mind's Eye 



DINNER AT A COUNTRY HOUSE 

BY MARY KENNAN HERBERT 



Their porch is large, commodious and screened. 
Mosquitoes are not invited. The table there is inviting, 
with a cornucopia of salads, three red wines, two homemade 
pies with local apples, cralted with panache by our hostess. 
Breads, too, from a favorite bakery within easy driving distance. 
After all, this is not manna in the wilderness, but a civilized 
rural retreat. Outside, young girls sit on the old swing, 
sizing up the adult guests. A baby is brought in to be admired, 
a twentysomething mom puts him proudly on display. 
There's the baby; where is the dog? This scene requires 
a big Lab to welcome us, doesn't it? Voices are babbling 
like the newly dammed brook beyond the freshly mowed lawn, 
the brook is now a swimming pool. Our host cut the grass 
this very morning in anticipation of our gathering, our smiles. 
At 8:30 the evening light is still adequate for an after-dinner 
stroll. Guests are discussing gardens, trust funds, career 
changes, the motivations of architects and accountants, 
how to communicate with architects of country houses, 
movies about country houses, babies, divorce, dying 
and driving. The price of gasoline. Mosquitoes pound 
on the screen, demanding attention. Oire bug sneaks in, 
ignores the wine, zeroes in on one guest's throat. A large welt 
grows on her sunburned neck, a souvenir like the heavy moon 
or the napkin wadded in her clenched fist. In the kitchen, 
beyond the merry porch, coffee is offered, ft is perfect. 
Outside, crickets laugh on cue. She cannot swallow. 



Two Poems 

BY BEN JACQUES 



THE LAST BOAT 



Hull shape 

ash leaf on the water 

cupped hands 

a folded letter 

whatever you use for design 

let it be a simple boat 

open to the stars and wind 

keel of oak 

lapstrake of cedar 

because this will be the last boat 

the last pushing off from shore 

past the red and black channel markers 

into the swells rising at the breakwater 

clang of bell buoy at the ledge 

beyond the sound 

When the cape light grows distant 
and there's only time to kill 
roll up your slicker for a pillow 
take a little nap 
before the storm 



38 The MM i Eye 



THE MILKMAN 



At the dairy by four, 

he'd ice the truck, then load 

milk, cream, cottage cheese. 

On Saturdays he'd light the stove 
for a customer in East Dearing, 
drive to Town Landing to load milk 
for the hotel on Chebeague Island, 
then finish the Forcside and head inland. 

He remembers snowdrifts, 
snowshoeing over a parked car 
to get to the door. 

And the surprise he got in a dark hallway 
in a three-decker in Portland, 
reaching down to pick up glass empties, 
his hand settling on a drunk's face. 

At one house the woman kept 
hassling him over the bill, then 
she'd make him wait while she 
counted out pennies from a jar. 
He said: "I've half a mind 
to pay you five dollars 
tu buy your milk elsewhere." 

"I'll take it," she snapped. 

Life is short, he figured, 
as beside the scattered coins 
he set down a clean five. 



Two Poems 

BY PETER FILKINS 



BOTTLE 

Sentinel to the air 
caught up in it, 
an inner atmosphere 
that tan intuit 

Everywhere 
empty of limit 
outside its clear- 
eyed silicate. 

Hence the fear 
of stone or bullet, 
riotous cheer 
making it rocket. 

Rather, what's here 
is indeterminate. 
Take it (beware!'), 
then drink from it. 



40 The Mind's Eye 



TO A SUICIDE 

How severely you misjudged us. Though we're shaken, 
our sorrow finds us here in expectation 
of the cold hard truth untrue, the music mistaken, 
this perplexed and heavy air a mock occasion. 

Yet feeling what we feel, there's only this: 
to join the solemn line that waits on you, 
sign our names, bow heads together, kiss, 
comparing note 1 ; with talk of what we knew, 

what we did not, or what we might have said 
to convince you, finally, that life's allotted pain 
is unbearable and assured, its pleasures nothing 
more than opiates, temporal as the rain, 
and like the rose's pliant petals — fleeting 
yet incarnadine, and wasted on the dead, 



Fledge 

BY CYNTHIA RICHARDSON 

I am in a crown of twigs 
And thorns woven on a ledge. 
The neighbors only leave 
At night, come back at dawn. 
Sing a different song from mine, 
Scratch and scritch in their 
Dark smelly place all day. 

Her nearing rush of wings 
Brings pleasure. 
Her parting rush of wings 
Brings pain. 

I am hunger, she is food. 

Soon 1 seek the ledge. 
Claws slip on painted edge. 
But when 1 start to fall, 
I don't seem to fall at all. 
Forces lift me to a sill. 
Heart healing to break. 

What did 1 feel as T fell? 
What was that force? 
I fall again to see. 
And when I float, 
I don't go back, 
I don't look back. 
Her scream is at 
My back. 



42 The Mind's Eye 



Gardens, Tea, and 
Sympathy 

BY ANDREW HOWITT 



Early contacts between Europe and China produced wonderful 
opportunities for cultural exchanges, but they also resulted in 
distorted notions, unreliable accounts and incorrect assumptions 
about alien societies. Nowhere is the resulting confusion more evident 
or more amusing than in the exaggerations and misuse of fandscape 
design brought back to Europe from China. 

The majority of 17th- and 18th-century English and Continental 
landscape gardeners failed to appreciate the principles underlying the 
creation of their imported Chinese garden features. Because Europeans 
misunderstood the cultural foundation uf Chinese gardens, they con- 
structed anomalies that please us today more for their comical failure 
than for their success in grafting Asian spirit onto European soil. 

To be fair, one must note that Chinese perception of nature in- 
cluded factors that Western gardeners in the pre-Romantic period did 
not consider appropriate. For example, Chinese landscape architects 
could anticipate and therefore utilize specific philosophical and emo- 
tional responses to their gardens through meditation. Contemplation in 
"a garden suffused with the doctrines of Taoism and Buddhism" would 
lead to an awareness of how much one was in harmony with nature 
(Engel 27). The Chinese viewed the relationship between man and 



The Mind's Eye 43 



Andrew Howit! 

nature more like the 19th-century European romantics than like the 
rationalists of the Age of Reason. 

English and Continentals attempted to improve nature, bringing 
natural areas into line with prevailing horticultural tastes. Robert BIy 
refers to such European pride in human reason as the Old Position, 
describing its divisive reasoning since the time of Descartes in this way: 
"Consciousness is human, and involves reason. A serious gap exists be- 
tween us and the rest of nalure, Nature is to be watched, pitied, and 
taken care of if it behaves" (8), 

For the Chinese, a garden was not to be tamed or pitied; it was "an 
expression of the ideal accord of man and nature. . . . inside the house, 
man is Confucian: formal, dutiful, restrained, inhibited. Outside, in the 
garden, he is Taoist: carefree, newborn, primitivistic, romantic, There, 
man and nature become one" (Engel 8). 

Upon entering a garden, a Chinese visitor would begin a process of 
philosophical reflection, directed by auditory stimuli, such as raindrops strik- 
ing banana-tree leaves or the songs of caged birds, and visual forms — rather 
than color and scent. As Chen Congzhou, a professor at Tongji University 
in China, has written, "A garden without water, clouds, shadows, sounds, 
morning twilight and sunset is a garden devoid of natural beauty. For these, 
though ethereal, set off the actual scenes of a garden" (51). 

A Chinese scholar was expected to bring to the paths, pavilions and 
pond banks knowledge of poetry, philosophy and history, as well as 
aesthetics. According to Professor Chen, "The scenery becomes lively 
when it is inspired with sentiments, and sentiments find their source in 
human beings" (13). 

The names for various sections of Wang Chin Tsz's garden, built in 
1550, clearly reflect the cultural expectation that a visitor would spiri- 
tually respond to a garden. "The Place of Clear Meditation, the Eleva- 
tion of Remote Thought . . . and the Place for Listening to the Sighing 
Pines" were typical phrases used in the tradition of inscribing inspira- 
tional titles on rocks or on placards hung on the lintels of pavdions 
(Thacker 51). 

Chinese gardens encouraged one's imagination to follow a medita- 
tive channel (fmpey 140). Two of the most popular stimuli for the Chi- 
nese imagination were not flowers and statues, as in the West, but rocks 
and trees, selected for their unusual, twisted, contorted, disfigured and 
weathered shapes. According to Christopher Thacker, "To the Chinese, 
the writhen, contorted appearance of . . . old and almost lifeless trunks 
is worthy of lengthy contemplation, revealing qualities of fortitude and 



44 The Mind's Eye 



Andrew Howitt 



grandeur comparable to the worn yet enduring stones of the 
mountainside" (44). Translating contorted shapes into moral qualities 
like fortitude was one desirable result of the meditative process. Sensi- 
tive viewers could also experience the infinite within the confines of a 
limited space, seeing the large in the small. 

While Dutch gardeners were spending fortunes on tulip bulbs, 
the Chinese invested huge sums to acquire the famous and fantasti- 
cally shaped rocks dredged from Lake Tai Hu near Shanghai. These 
rocks are still prized for resembling now smoke, now dragons, now 
mountains and now clouds. With tea and contemplation, along with, 
perhaps, some opium supplied by British merchants, Chinese manda- 
rins could feel they had visited mountains while contemplating rocks 
in their backyard. 

Yuan Yeh wrote in his garden treatise of 1634, "A single moun- 
tain may give rise to many effects, a small stone may evoke many 
feelings. ... If one can find stillness in the middle of the city turmoil, 
why should one then forgo such an easily accessible spot and seek a 
more distant one?" (qtd. in tmpey 140). 

To aid the visitor traveling down the Chinese contemplative path, 
pavilions and covered walkways with balconies were erected. Here, 
mandarins drank tea, meditated and composed poetry— an aesthetic 
relative of philosophy. To the intelligentsia, poetry was as inextricable 
from gardens as fragrance and color are for westerners. Thacker notes 
that "for the Chinese, a garden without poetry would seem somehow 
incomplete." In what sounds like a translation of a Chinese proverb, he 
adds, "No garden, no landscape, without poems and poets" (51 ) . Chen 
states much the same idea as "No balcony, no figures; no figures, no 
sentiments; no sentiments, no scenery" (13). 

Poets were sometimes invited to gather on the bank of a stream in a 
private park to recite spontaneous verse for the length of time it took a 
cup of wine to float downstream from the host to the poetic guest (Thacker 
53). In Beijing, one emperor had a small artilicial stream built so that he 
could organize such parties without leaving the Forbidden City. 

The Chinese garden, then, with its physical stimuli and aesthetic 
and philosophical input, was conceived as "a symbolic representation, 
an essence, an indication, rather than an attempt at realistic re- 
creation" (Thacker 43). Alan Watts notes a similar purpose in Japa- 
nese gardens: "The intention of the best Japanese gardens is not to 
make a realistic illusion of landscape, but simply to suggest the 
general atmosphere of 'mountain and water' in a small space, so 



The Mind's Eye 45 



Andrew Howitt 



arranging the design of the garden that it seems to have heen helped 
rather than governed by the hand of man" (194). The means of creat- 
ing this essence were trees, rocks, waterways and poems — not flower 
beds, clipped hedges, wrought-iron gates or bronze fountains. 

In his Dissertation on Oriental Gardening, the sympathetic Sir William 
Chambers ( 1 726-1 796 ), who visited China for a firsthand look and came 
away a kindred spirit, notes this confluence of influences on Chinese 
garden construction: "Their gardeners are not only botanists but also 
painters and philosophers, having a thorough knowledge of the human 
mind and the arts by which its strongest feelings are excited. . ." (qtd. in 
Hadfield 220). 

Mown fawns, mulched flower beds, topiaries, hedges, straight gravel 
paths and spraying fountains — all features that clearfy owe their exist- 
ence to a gardener's heavy hand — were undesirable intrusions between 
a meditating mandarin and nature. 

Sir William Temple disparagingly pointed out this contrast in land- 
scape design techniques when in 1685 he claimed, with hubris, superi- 
ority for British gardens: "Our British gardens on the contrary, instead 
of humoring nature, love to deviate from it as much as possible. Our 
trees rise in cones, globes and pyramids. We see the marks of the scis- 
sors upon every plant and bush" (qtd. in Hadffeld 178). 

The main, point here is that in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was 
the Chinese— not the British and Continental— gardeners who contrived 
scenes that inspired spiritual/aesthetic quests toward integrating man 
and nature, establishing both as equally important, neither superior to 
nor improved by the other. 

Admittedly, Chinese landscapes were artificial in that they were 
constructed, but the interaction of man and nature in these environ- 
ments was intended to be a re-creation of a natural experience, not a 
cerebral or purely aesthetic one. Alan Watts describes the conscious 
intention here in this way: "The Zen gardener has no mind to impose 
his own intention upon natural forms, but is careful rather to follow 
the 'intentionless intention' of the forms themselves, even though this 
involves the utmost care and skill. In fact, the gardener never ceases to 
prune, clip, weed and train his plants, but he does so in the spirit of 
being part of the garden himself rather than a directing agent standing 
outside. He is not interfering with nature because he is nature, and he 
cultivates as il not cultivating. Thus the garden is at once highly artifi- 
cial and extremely natural" (194)! 

Temple observed a related difference between the 17th- and 18th- 



46 The Mind's Eye 



Andrew Howilt 



century English and the Chinese: their disinclination to count or to 
achieve uniformity. "Among us [English]," Temple writes, "the beauty 
of buildings and planting is placed chiefly in some certain proportions, 
symmetries or uniformities: our walks and trees are arranged so as to 
answer one another, and at exact distances. The Chinese scom this way 
of planting and say that any boy that can tell [i.e., count) a hundred 
may plant walks of trees in straight lines, over-against one another, and 
to what length and extent he pleases" (qld. in Hadfield 176). Walking 
through a formal 17th- or 18th-century English/Continental garden, a 
visitor could hardly resist the temptation to count the hollow globes or 
the orange trees in tubs, as if puzzling out an elaborate three-dimen- 
sional mathematical puzzle. 

Biy points out that "the 18th-century [European] attitude rep- 
resents the culmination of a slow retreat from the open channels to 
nature taught by the [Eleusinian] Mysteries and by the ancient 
world in general. And in the 18th century there is a general dis- 
daining of nature" (10), 

Temple and his follower-, erred when they reasoned that because 
Chinese gardens lacked symmetry, they were thereby without under- 
lying principles. His description uf Chinese gardens as "without any 
order or disposition of parts that shall be commonly or easily observed" 
is woefully incorrect (qtd. in Hadfield 177). Instead of transposing rea- 
son into columns, rows, mazes and figurines, the Chinese expressed 
the spiritual by giving form everywhere to the dialectics of comple- 
mentary forces. 

Chinese gardeners utilize complementary relationships, such as 
high and low, far and near, wet and dry, smooth and rough, dark and 
light, in-motion (strolling) and in-position (sitting) garden viewing, 
and "borrowing" scenes and "separating" scenes, i.e., letting in sur- 
rounding landscape features or walling out neighboring cityscape ele- 
ments. The essential principle at work comprises the yin-yang duality, 
the balance or harmony between opposing forces. 

Not until the latter half of the 18th century did first the English and 
soon after the Continental garden designers develop a looser, more natu- 
ral and flowing style. Capability Brown (1716-1783), who introduced 
small groves, serpentine lakes and rising and falling driveway approaches 
to create a variable but controlled sense of distance, was the best of the 
new school of landscape architects to design parks and gardens more 
empathic to nature. Continental critics acknowledged the British debt 
to China when they coined the term jardins anglo-chinois to describe 



The Mind's Eye 47 



Andrew Hewitt 



rhese newly fashionable, early-romantic, asymmetrical spaces. 

As David Engel notes, "Even where the parts of the [Chinese] de- 
sign show neither reason nor formula, there is neither disorder nor con- 
fusion. . . . The contradictions within a Chinese garden are more appar- 
ent than real The impact of each garden feature is enhanced by 

studied consideration of its contrast with its background and the rela- 
tionship between dominant and subordinate elements within each 
scene. . . . There is constant play between denseness and sparseness, 
openness and walling-in of space, the refined craftsmanship of ex- 
quisite architectural details and the natural trees and rocks, and be- 
tween the bright and the dark" (51). 

Without an understanding of the designer's aims and means to achieve 
them in a Chinese garden, early European visitors to China found the 
gardens wild and disordered. French Jesuits were especially unsuited to 
appreciate Chinese culture, arriving as they did to convert and teach, not 
to learn. Pere Louis LeComte, for example, said of Chinese architecture 
in 1 690 that it was "very unpleasing to foreigners, a nd must needs olfend 
anyone that has the least notion of true architecture" (qtd. in Impey 143) . 

Fortunately, European derision soon evolved into enjoyment, if not 
true appreciation, of Chinese architecture of buildings and gardens. De- 
pictions that were more favorable than LeComte's reports eventually ap- 
peared on plates, cloth, furniture and canvas. 

The Europeans wanted exotic imports for amusement rather than to 
acknowledge the attainments of another culture. Oliver Impey notes that 
"people knew exactly what they wanted a 'Chinese' building to be, light, 
frivolous, immediately pretty, and gaily colored, and they had no use for 
Sir William Chambers' solemn pronouncements on inaccuracy. If a build- 
ing had Chinese fret or a conical or concave roof, if it had upturned eaves 
and was hung with bells, it was Chinese (or Indian, as you liked) and 
bother Sir William" (qtd. in Impey 146). 

hi France, Louis XIV contributed to the developing Continental tradi- 
tion of mista ken chinoiserie with the construction of the Trianon de Porce- 
lain in 1 670. Because Chinese buildings appeared to be blue and while, as 
they were depicted on porcelain plates, the Sun King had his Trianon cov- 
ered with blue -and- white faience. Of course, the building had to be dis- 
mantled only a few years after its construction because the facade could 
not endure the French climate. 

In the 1 Stlt cenmry, garden pavilions, a traditional and integral fearure of 
Chinese gardens, began to be popular in Europe. As Impey notes, however, 
"Once the fashion began, every conceivable and even almost inconceivable 



AS The Mind's Eye 



Andrew Hewitt 



style of architecture was used, from classical 10 chinoiserie to 'Hindoo'" (141). 

For a long time, chinoiserie pavilions — or follies — substituted sur- 
face decoration in an inaccurate Chinese style for the real thing. A splen- 
did example of European ignorance and the resulting Eurocentrism is a 
statue of a Chinese musician at the Chinese House at Sans Souci in 
Potsdam, built for Frederick the Great in the 1750s, The statue depicts a 
Chinese musician holding agu-qing, orChinese zither, like a lute, when, 
in fact, a gu-qing is laid flat on a table and plucked with both hands held 
above it. 

In England, Georgian chinoiserie can still be f ound in several places, 
including the House of Confucius at Kew Gardens, designed by J. 
Goupy around 1745; a "Chinese house painted by Mr. Slauter" at Stowe 
in 1745; a garden pavilion a; Sliugborough Park, Staffordshire, built 
around 1747; and the Great Pagoda at Kewby Sir William Chambers, 
built in 1763 (Impey 149). In the Brighton Pavilion, designed by sev- 
eral architects, including John Nash, one still sees typically inaccurate 
chinoiserie inventions that emphasize the bizarre and exotic. Queen 
Victoria so hated the building that she sold her Uncle George IV's cre- 
ation as soon as she had the power. 

Gone, but captured in an engraving of 1753 by Canaletto, is the 
chinoiserie bridge at Hampton Court, which made overly extensive use 
of fret that had been popularized in furniture by Thomas Chippendale 
(Impey 152). Fireworks— another Chinese invention — destroyed a pa- 
goda built by Nash in St. James Park in 1814. 

Chinese garden features were employed by European landscape and 
building architects primarily to amuse and bewilder the European pub- 
lic, who must have gawked, gaped and guffawed. However, by the end 
of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, increased 
contacts with China enabled European landscape architects to ap- 
preciate and emulate Chinese gardening creativity. Much like the 
mid- 1 9th-century influx of Japanese woodblock prints and their sub- 
sequent pervasive influence on European aesthetics, growing 17th- 
and 1 8th-century trade and diplomatic relations between Europe and 
China eventually resulted in a cross-pollination of horticultural 
achievements that landscape architects still benefit from today. 



The Mind's Eye 49 



Andrew Howitt 



Works Cited 

Bly, Robert. News of the Universe. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1980. 
Chen, Congzhou. On Chinese Gardens. Shanghai: Tongji UP, 1984. 
Engel, David H. Creating a Chinese Garden. London: Croom Helm, 19S6. 
Hadfield, Miles. A History of British Gardening, Chatham: Mackay, 1979. 
Impey, Oliver, chinoiserie: The Impact of Oriental Styles on Western Art and 

Decoration. London: Oxford UP, 1979. 
Thacker, Christopher. The History of Gardens. London: Croom Helm, 1979. 
Watts, Alan. The Way of Zen. New York: Vintage, 1989. 



50 The Mind's Eye 



Book Review 



Exploring 
Consciousness 

The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Con- 
sciousness by Antonio Damasio. Harcoart Brace, 1999 

Some Deaths Before Dyingby Peter Dickinson. Mysterious Press — Wa rner 
Books, 1999 



BY MEERA TAMAYA 



By a serendipitous coincidence, I read two books consecutively 
that turned out to be about the same topic — the workings of 
human consciousness. The first. The Feeling of What Happens, by 
Antonio Damasio, the M. W. Van Allen Distinguished Professor and head 
of the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa School of 
Medicine, examines the intricate ways in which body, mind and emo- 
tions orchestrate our consciousness. The second. Some Deaths Before Dying, 
a mystery novel (low on the canonical totem pole), by Peter Dickinson, 
also deals with consciousness, but of a fictional character, Rachel Matson, 
a 90-ycar-old talented photographer and widow of a World War ff hero, 
paralyzed from the neck down from a degenerative disease, who is de- 
termined to hold on to her consciousness till her body finally gives out. 

The title of Damasio's book, The Feeling of What Happens, is an adap- 
tation from Seamus Heaney's poem "Song," which ends with the line 



The Mind's Eye 51 



Meera Tamaya 

"when the bird sings very close to the music of what happens." The 
title is but one indication of the range of references, from poetry to pop 
culture, used effortlessly, which makes Damasio's book a joy to read. 
Indeed, with his lucid, jargon-free prose, Damasio joins the ranks of 
those rare scientists, like Stephen J. Gould, who make science acces- 
sible to the general reader in prose that is a pleasure in its own right. 

In his previous book, Descartes ' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Hu- 
man Brain, building on the seminal insights ol Charles Darwin and 
William James, citing scientific evidence hased on his case studies of 
brain-damaged patients, Damasio makes a persuasive case for the cen- 
trality ol emotion in biological survival, citing evidence that absence 
of emotion can be just as damaging as excessive emotion, Damasio 
dismantles the tired old dualisms between mind and body, reason and 
emotion, a legacy of the Platonic and Judaeo-Christian tradition, most 
influential!}' articulated by Descartes in the 17th century. Indeed, his 
credo may be summed up as "1 feel, therefore I am," in direct opposi- 
tion to the famous Cartesian formula, "I think, therefore 1 am," 

All of this comes as a great relief to me (a woman born and raised in 
India), as traditionally feeling and emotion have always been consid- 
ered the province of women, the lower classes and colonized subjects. 
In literature and movies, for example, the Irish, the Welsh and people 
Of color, along with women, are given to emotional displays, while the 
ruling elite go about their business of conquest and subjugation with a 
stiff upper lip. Why cry, when you can shoot from the hip and make 
your day, as Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood would have it? 

In his second book, Damasio takes on the subject ol consciousness, 
which according to him "is the turning point in our evolutionary his- 
tory." Again, citing empirical evidence made possible by recent techno- 
logical developments in brain scanning, such as PET (positron-emission 
tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and study of brain- 
damaged patients with a range of impairments from agnosia to 
Alzheimer's disease, Damasio portrays the complex connections between 
sensory experience, emotions and human consciousness. His aim is to 
map the biology of consciousness. 

In the past decade, termed "The Decade of the Brain," a spate of 
books on consciousness, or the mind-body problem, have rolled off the 
press. Philosophers and neuroscientists — Daniel Dennet, Paul and 
Patricia Churchland, Thomas Nagel, Colin McGinn, John Searle, Gerald 
Edelman and Francis Crick, to name a few — have pondered the origins 
and the nature of human consciousness. According to Damasio, it is 



52 The Mind i Eye 



Meera Tamaya 



consciousness That has made possible "conscience, religion, social and 
political organizations, the arts, the sciences and technology" (4). The 
question of consciousness has acquired greater urgency since the digital 
revolution has raised, once again, the possibility of computer duplica- 
tion of the human brain. The specter of Al, or artificial intelligence, 
threatens to complete the dethronement of man begun by Copernicus 
and Galileo and hastened forward by Darwin. The new millennium 
may see the microchip, not the human mind, as the center of die known 
and unknown universe. In this bleak scenario of virtual humanity and 
reality, the unaccountable factor still remains human consciousness, 
and what makes it unaccountable is human feeling (three cheers lor 
unaccountability and human feeling, say I). To the question of whether 
human consciousness can be duplicated by s microchip, Damasio an- 
swers that "feeling is, in effect, the barrier, because . . . feeling cannot be 
duplicated, unless the brain's actions on the flesh are duplicated, unless 
the brain's sensing of the flesh after it has been acted on by the brain is 
duplicated" (314-15). 

That sums up the originality of Damasio's contribution to the rap- 
idly burgeoning field of mind, brain and consciousness studies: Not only 
is there no homunculus (the secular equivalent of the religious con- 
cept of soul), which may be the locus of consciousness, but the whole — 
the body, the senses, the brain, emotion and feelings — forms an imti- 
cate fugue of awareness of the self in relation to the world that we 
experience as consciousness. How the sense of self arises as a relation 
of one's core consciousness to the world, the development of an ex- 
tended consciousness built on memory, the distinction between emo- 
tion and feeling, all these are some of the offshoots of Damasio's central 
insight into the nature of consciousness as an amalgam of sensory ex- 
periences, emotions and cognition. 

Rachel Matson, the protagonist of Peter Dickinson's novel Some 
Deaths Before Dying, is determined to fine-tune her consciousness even 
as her body is dying; she watches the rooks building nests outside her 
window and wonders flow they are made: 

No, "wonder" was too feeble a word for the serious effort and 
attention she put into it, a tactic in her long and steadfast cam- 
paign to keep hold of her mind. Almost everything else was 
gone, the provinces of her body lost for good. ... But until 
then the mind was hers, untouchable, holy to her, kagia sophia. 
She was determined to die knowing what was happening to 



The Mind's Eye 53 



Meera Tamaya 



her, and aware and confident of the reality of anything in the 
field of her remaining perceptions. (2-3) 

Rachel is handed a mystery to solve when her daughter tells her 
that one of a pair of antique pistols, made by the famous Swiss gun 
maker Ladurie, Tor Joachim Murat, one of Napoleon's generals, a 
gift from Rachel to her late husband, has turned up on the television 
Antiques Roadshow, displayed by a total stranger. And what is worse, 
the pistol has been damaged by the corrosive effects of the powder that 
wasn't cleaned after it was fired. Who has fired it and in what deadly 
circumstances is a mystery Rachel sets out to solve Irom her bed, recall- 
ing fugitive memories with the aid of the extensive collections of pho- 
tographs she has taken, and by asking whispered questions to a series of 
visitors she summons to her bed with the authority of the dying. 

The mystery is composed of all the tired and true elements of the 
Golden Age mysteries: the Agatha Christie world of upper-class Brits 
fighting wars on global and domestic fronts, ostensibly to uphold no- 
lions of "honor" they have been socialized to maintain, or preserve the 
facade thereof. Rachel's consciousness has to grapple with the fact that 
in reality, these codes of honor, functional in battlefields (risking one's 
life to save the life of an underling, for example), turn into a self- 
serving mechanism to preserve the status quo of the class structure. 

In this system, running a camp for juvenile delinquents means the 
toffs who put up a jolly good show of altruism are, in reality, abusing 
the boys sexualiy. When the most privileged of all the toffs is about to 
decamp with the funds after assiduously pimping for the local lords of 
the manor, the miscreant must be punished — not, however, by the due 
process of law, like ordinary blokes, but by his fellow nobs, in a farce of 
a duel where the actual private execution is carried out by their lowly 
sergeants. The sexual exploitation of the delinquents is the prerogative 
of the officer class, and it is not of great concern as long as it is hidden. 
Tt is exposure and the threat of a public scandal that sends the officers 
scurrying to clean up their acts, and guess who shovels the dirt, and 
enthusiastically, too? It is the thoroughly indoctrinated servants. 

Rachel makes a last painful effort of consciousness to reconstruct 
the dark secrets so long covered up in order to maintain her upper-class 
image of herself. Before dying, she becomes fully conscious and sees in 
a way she hasn't, even at the height of her powers as a photographer: 
"Perhaps she had been biind. . . . Her blindness had been of her own 
making. It was as if she had ail along been trying to build the nest on 



54 The Mind's Eye 



Meera Tamaya 



the wrong bough" (232). Thuughshe is physically immobilized, Rachel's 
quest for the truth buried in her past, her efforts to rend the veils of 
willed ignorance that had cocooned her in life, her determination "to 
die knowing," a quest as old as that of Oedipus, is what distinguishes 
the human animal, for better or worse. 

As Antonio Damasio asks, "What could be more difficult to know 
than to know how we know?" Rachel's efforts to disinter the past, how- 
ever painfut it may prove, is finally her last attempt to die with a clear 
sense of self and its relation to the world. Damasio articulates his objec- 
tive in writing The Feeling of What Happens m similar terms: "1 write about 
the sense of self and about the transition from innocence and ignorance 
to knowingness and selfness. My specific goal is to consider the biologi- 
cal circumstances that permit that critical transition" (3—4). 

What a treat to read about the science of consciousness first thing 
in the morning, and end the day with a work of fiction that fleshes out 
scientific hypotheses with an empathic imagination and a novelist's way 
with words, tn 1959, C. P. Snow issued a jeremiad titled Two Cultures 
and the Scientific Revolution, in which he prophesied an increasing and 
possibly unbridgeable gulf between scientists and artists. The two are 
locked in mutual incomprehension. Snow proclaimed, because they 
speak different languages. If he were alive today, 1 think he would be 
agreeably surprised at the number of scientists who write like novelists, 
and novelists who give a human face to scientific abstractions. 



The Mind's Eye 55 



Review Essay 



The Noble Savage in 
Chinese Film: 

Ethnic and Gendered Dimensions 

BY SUMI COLLIGAN 



A basic tenet of anthropological wisdom is that we develop con- 
sciousness of ourselves as individuals and as members of groups 
by comparing ourselves with others. Film offers one venue for 
such a mirroring process. One strategy of contemporary Chinese film- 
makers has been to concentrate their scripts in remote and sparsely 
populated areas of China. In so doing, they are chronicling tales located 
peripherally in space in order to reflect critically upon issues of concern 
to Han (the majority ethnic group in the People's Republic of China) at 
the "center" (those granted authority and/or importance) of Chinese 
society (Gladney 16S). While some of these films may appear to have an 
ethnographic flavor, their primary purpose is to deploy portrayals of the 
"other" that serve as a backdrop for exploring the hcnelits and ills of 
Chinese-style modernity. 

fn this essay I examine representations of ethnicity and gender in a 
film called Xiu Xiu: the Sent-Down Girl ( 1 999). These representations of- 

56 The Mind's Eye 



Sum: Colligan 



fera useful vehicle for analyzing the self /other dynamic outlined above. 
This film is directed by Joan Chen and is based upon a short story en- 
titled "The Celestial Bath" written by Geling Yan. Both director and 
author are Shanghai born and now reside in San Francisco. Although 
the film and the narrative were composed on Western soil, they incor- 
porate many of the same themes and conventions as those that have 
preoccupied China's Fifth Generation filmmakers (filmmakers trained 
by the Beijing Academy in the post-Maoist era). 

This film is set on the Tibetan plains during the latter part of the 
Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and recounts the tale of an adoles- 
cent girl from Chengdu, Wen Xiu, who, along with many others of her 
generation, is sent to the countryside to learn from the peasants. After a 
short stint at a powdered-milk factory, she becomes apprenticed to a 
solitary Tibetan horse trainer, Lao Jin, ostensibly in order to prepare for 
competition against the famous Girls' Iron Cavalry, only to discover at 
the termination of her training that the Cavalry has long since disbanded 
and her chances of returning home are nil. Through the narration of 
this plot, the fdm touches upon motifs of contemporary political cor- 
ruption and sexual exploitation in contradistinction to images of the 
noble savage and the honesty and simplicity of ruraf life. 

Whereas the story is not directly autobiographical, the author, Geling 
Yan, who also helped compose the film script, did perform in dance 
troupes as a member of the People's Liberation Army in her youth (Yan 
183). As this case illustrates, the historical focus of the film, the Cultural 
Revolution, has become a popular punching bag for Chinese artists and 
intellectuals, who have bemoaned their fate during "the ten lost years." 
For example, numerous Chinese films produced in the '80s, such as The 
Blue Kite and Farewell. My Concubine, addressed this topic. 

William Hinton, a historian of socialism, explains the overarching sig- 
nificance of this period: 

In 1956, what was socialist in China consisted primarily of a 
radically new system of public and cooperative ownership, with- 
out an adequate supporting complex of new ideology, culture, 
or institutions to bind it together. In the long run Mao held, 
only by carrying the revolution to the superstructure, only by 
transforming old ideas, customs, culture, and habits; only by 
remolding education, art, literature, and, above all, government, 
could a new social fabric in harmony with and supportive of the 
new socialist economic base be brought into being. (760) 



The Mind's Eye 57 



Sumi Colligmi 



The Cultural Revolution was supposed to mark this final transfor- 
mation, shaking up entrenched elites and world views, and China's 
young people were called up to participate fully in this process. What 
ensued instead was a society thrown into turmoil by factionalism, de- 
nunciations and rigidly imposed political dogma (Hinton 760-66). More- 
over, while girls probably experienced greater geographic mobility than 
in previous periods of Chinese history, they also became more vulner- 
able to sexual abuse due to the absence of familial protection (Honig 4). 

The subject of the Cultural Revolution is introduced in the film by 
summarizing, via written text, some of its goals and the role of youili in 
carrying them out. In the opening scene, we see young people engag- 
ing in group exercise and young people in military uniform saying their 
farewells to their families. Xiu Xiu (Wen Xiu's nickname) describes her 
own motives in these words: "Everyone is signing up, so I signed up, 
too!" Here the uncritical acceptance and momentum of mass move- 
ments is emphasized along with the initial innocence of its followers. 
Xiu Xiu's innocence, in particular, is revealed through the parental at- 
tention she receives, as well as through the adolescent courtship of a 
suitor who presents her with a kaleidoscope as a remembrance. Xiu 
Xiu's fate is, in fact, retold by this suitor, who never crosses her path 
again but is able to piece it together from the reports of others. The 
suitor himself stays behind because of family connections and this is 
our first hint that Chinese- style socialism has not produced an equal 
playing field. The benefits of social networks also arise toward the end 
of the film, when Xiu Xiu is informed that those youngsters with politi- 
cal clout or financial advantage have been allowed to abandon their 
posts and return to urban living. 

The uniforms themselves raise another contradiction between 
Maoist ideology and the lived experiences of this era. During the Cul- 
tural Revolution, females were told that "women hold tip half the sky." 
This aphorism masked the social reality of gender difference by encour- 
aging an outward facade of androgyny. Moreover, those who challenged 
its validity risked being labeled selfish and counterrevolutionary (Honig 
4). In the film, this contradiction is exposed initially when the sent- 
down girls are pinched on the buttocks by Party officials as they watch 
a propaganda clip on a screen set up at night in the outdoors. Indeed, 
there is an implication that Xiu Xiu may have been transferred from 
her factory job to a more isolated assignment with the Tibetan horse 
trainer as a punishment for resisting this unwelcome fondling. This is- 
sue is further magnified when no one comes to relieve Xiu Xiu of her 



58 The Mind's Eye 



Sumi Colligan 



post and Parly bureaucrats take advantage of her desperation to return 
home by prostituting and raping her. 

By contrast, the narrative incorporates the character of the Tibetan, 
Lao Jin, in such a way as to trifle with Han metaphors of minorities 
within China. These metaphors (not unlike the metaphors of other "civi- 
lizing projects") characterize minorities as feminine, archaic and child- 
like (Harrell 9-1 0). Rather blatantly, Lao Jin is introduced as someone 
who "lost his manhood with one slice of a knife" during a tribal war, 
thereby posing no threat to Xiu Xiu, though they share the same tent. 
Tiie ancient quality of this lifestyle is emphasized by underscoring the 
Tibetan's identification with horses and his resemblance to animals. Fi- 
nally, his childlike innocence is suggested through Xiu Xiu's taunts that 
he owns nothing (actually, he owns a transistor radio and when he 
pulls it out to show her, it is broadcasting the sounds of group exercise, 
another reminder of the controlled and conformist nature of contem- 
porary Han existence) and knows nothing of the world of residence 
permits and permanent job assignments (his solution to her abandon- 
ment is taking her to a bus stop). Of course, the juxtaposition of the 
lone Tibetan with the mass movement of the Cultural Revolution (rug- 
ged individualist versus group hysteria) is provided in order to expose 
the hypocrisy of Han Communist constructions of civilization, achieve- 
ment and masculinity. 

Additionally, the theme of purity and pollution runs throughout 
the film. Before Xiu Xiu leaves Chengdu, her mother reminds her of 
the importance of rinsing out her menstrual pads so that they do not 
collect germs. Moreover, we witness her mother giving her a bath and 
later discover that it is a habit of which Xiu Xiu is unusually fond and 
makes considerable efforts to maintain under the harsh conditions of 
the Tibetan grasslands. She is, in fact, horrified by Lao Jin's lack of con- 
cern for personal hygiene, a point, again, intended to highlight his near 
animality and play Ctrl dichotomies of the pure Han center and the con- 
taminated periphery. Not surprisingly, as the narrative progresses, and 
the futl corruption of the Cultural Revolution is uncovered, Xiu Xiu is 
the one who begins to appear unkempt and wild (her own fall from 
grace is marked, not so subtly, by accepting an apple from a male visi- 
tor) while Lao Jin, through his nurturant and protective attention, 
discloses the depth of his own humanity. 

Despite the film's cynical portrayal of Chinese modernity, the possi- 
bility of redemption is implied at its ctosure. Xiu Xiu resumes her ado- 
lescent appearance, signaling her desire for Lao Jin to shoot her and put 



The Mind's Eye 59 



Sumi Colligan 

her out of her misery. His willingness to do so is a display of his own 
bravery. The implication throughout the film is that Lao Jin's emascula- 
tion has made him more fearless because he no longer has to be con- 
sumed with guarding his genitals (a preoccupation that has caused Han 
Communist Party leaders to act with cowardice and deceit). He buries 
her in a pool that he has devised for her bathing pleasure, shoots him- 
self and rests beside her as vultures fly overhead. The vultures, as in 
Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Horse Thief, symbolize the Tibetan funerary 
ritual, the sky burial and the hope of reincarnation (Gladney 172). 

The overarching theme of this review has been to explore ways in 
which the Han construct images of the noble savage through film as a 
vehicle for expressing their distaste for the contradictions and evils of 
repressive regimes. Since attacks on such regimes resonate in the West, 
especially when the regimes assume the guise of communism, 1 would 
like to insert a few caveats into a discussion that might otherwise lend 
itself to foregone concfusions. First, while 1 by no means intend to mini- 
mize the lives that were damaged and destroyed during the Cultural 
Revolution, it is also important to note that market reforms that have 
been introduced in the past two decades have produced uneven results. 
Rather than offering the panacea promised by many economists, they 
have generated new sources of insecurity and instability as evidenced 
by the emergence of floating populations (who migrate from regions 
where few resources have been invested to regions of high investment, 
only to find that they are denied the rights granted to permanent resi- 
dents) and the soaring rale of suicide among rural women. Second, 
posieolonial theorists have emphasized that moral crisis and disillu- 
sionment often follow on the heels of independence movements and 
revolutions when the beneficiaries discover that their ideals are not so 
easily realized (due to a host of factors, including the effects of global 
and regional inequalities, the legacy of colonial thinking and continu- 
ities from preindependencc and prerevolutionary sources of oppression). 
Hence, Chinese mainlanders and expatriates are not unique in express- 
ing serious misgivings about the "evolution" of postcolonial structures 
and processes. Finally, although the image of Tibetan as noble savage is 
obviously a highly romanticized distortion (and yet another example uf 
"imperialist nostalgia," to use Renato Rosaldo's term [68]), we need 
only look to our own representations of Native Americans and/or Ti- 
betans to gain awareness of how our own constructions of modernity 
are brought into sharp relief by our own depictions of the "primitive" 
and/or the lost world of Shangri-la. 



60 The Mind's Eye 



Sumi Colligan 



Works Cited 

Gladncy, Dm C. "Tian Zhuangzhuang, the Fifth Generation, and 

Minority Films in China," Public Culture 8:1 {Fall 1995). 
Harrell, Stevan. Cultural Encounters on China's Ethnic Frontiers. Seattle: 

U of Washington P, 1995. 
Hinton, William. Shenfan: The Continuing Revolution in a Chinese Village. 

New York: Vintage, 198}. 
Honig, Emily, and Gail Hershafter. Personal Voices: Chinese Women in the 

1980S. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1988. 
Rosaldo, Renato. Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. 

Boston: Beacon, 1989. 
Yan, Gehrig. White Snake and Other Stories. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999. 



The Mind's Bye 61 



Contributors 



Sumi Colligan has taught anthropology at the Massachusetts College 
of Liberal Arts since 1984. Her research interests include resistance and 
the politics of culture. Her articles have appeared in The Anthropology of 
Work Review, The Encyclopedia of World Cultures and elsewhere. Several 
years ago, she participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities 
summer seminar titled "National Identity in China: The New Politics of 
Culture." This summer she will be delivering her paper "Chinese Suspi- 
cion, Tibetan Hope: The Ramifications of Irony in the Chinese-Tibetan 
Conflict" at the East-West Center International 2000 Alumni Confer- 
ence in Hawaii. 

Peter Filkins teaches literature and writing at Simon's Rock College of 
Bard. His book of poems, What She Knew, was published in 1998 by 
Orchises Press. He is the translator of Ingeborg Bachmann's collected 
poems. Songs in Flight, and his translation of two novels by Bachmann 
was recently published by Northwestern University Press. Filkins has 
also translated a novel by Alois Hotchnig titled Leonardo's Hands, pub- 
lished by the University of Nebraska Press. His writing has appeared in 
numerous journals, including Partisan Review, The New Republic and Po- 
etry. Filkins previously taught at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. 

Diana Fox is an assistant professor of anthropology at the Massachu- 
setts College of Liberal Arts, where she has taught since 1995. Dr. Fox 
writes about and conducts fieldwork in Jamaica on community devel- 
opment and gender role patterns in the community of Frankfield. She 
has also conducted research on the relationship between international 
human rights and culture in Africa, and her most recent book. The Chal- 
lenges of Women's Activism and Human Rights in Africa, coedited with Dr. 
Naima Hasci, was published in 1999 by the Edwin Mellen Press. 

Mary Keruian Herbert teaches writing at the Borough of Manhattan 
Community College and at the Brooklyn campus of Long Island Univer- 
sity, following a career in book publishing. Her poems have appeared in 
numerous publications, including College English, The Chattahoochee Re- 
view, The Dominion Review and Hiram Poetry Review. A first collection of 
poems was published last year by Ginninderra Press in Australia, which 
will publish a second book this year. 



62 The Mind's Eye 



Andrew Howitt currently serves as an instructor o( English at Massa- 
chusetts College of Liberal Arts and at Berkshire Commnnity College. 
Rewrites lor the South County Advocate here in Berkshire County. From 
1980 through 1985, Howitt taught English in the People's Republic of 
China. He lives in Lenox, where he tends his garden. 

Ben Jacques writes poetry and creative nonfiction, as well as journal- 
istic articles. His poems have appeared in Wormwood Review, Kansas Quar- 
terly, The Christian Science Monitor and others. Since 1 990, he has taught 
Lnglish and communications at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. 

Cynthia Richardson has produced six seasons of reviews of Williams- 
town Theatre Festival productions for her local paper. The Chatham Cou- 
rier, and a scholarly article on The Canterbury Tales for Texas Studies in 
Literature and Language. Her poems have appeared in The Berkshire Review 
and The Amherst Review, and a poem will soon appear in Threepenny Re- 
view, She is currently working on a book titled Only You Can Reform Educa- 
tion: A Guerrilla Manual for Parents. For 2 1 years, she taught literature and 
creative writing in high schools and community colleges, 

Meera Tamaya is a professor of English at Massachusetts College of 
Liberal Arts; she teaches courses on Shakespeare and other authors. 
She is the author of the book Colonial Detection: H.R.F. Keating, as well 
as articles on John Sherwood, Kazuo Tshiguro, Margaret Atwood, Bar- 
bara Pym and Shakespeare. Her article "[ReJ cognizing Hamlet" in the 
Fall 1997issue ol The Mind's Eye led toa publishing contract for a book 
on this subject. 



The Mind's Eye 63 



64 The Mind's Eye 



Mind's Eye 

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While emphasizing articles of scholarly merit. The Mind's Eye focuses on a general 
communication of ideas of interest to a liberal arts college. We welcome expository 
essays as well as fiction, poetry and art from faculty and guest contributors. We 
publish twice a year. The deadline for the Fail issue is July 1 5. Deadline for the 
Spring issue is January 15. 

Submissions should adhere to these guidelines: 

1. Submit unpublished manuscripts both on paper and on disk, using either PC or 
MAC platform word-processing programs. Manuscripts should be typed double 
spaced. Your name, address, phone number and e-mail address, if available, should 
be listed on the cover sheet; your name should appear at the top of each page. 

2. We will consider simultaneous submissions under the provision that the author 
notify us of this, and contact us immediately if the material is accepted elsewhere. 

3. If you wish your manuscript and disk returned, please enclose a return 
self-addressed envelope. If it is to be mailed off campus, attach sufficient postage, 
While we make every attempt to safeguard your manuscript and disk, we cannot be 
held responsible for their loss. 

4. Use MLA or APA style, with in-text references, as appropriate to the content and 
disciplinary approach of your article (see MLA or APA stylebook for guidelines). 

5. While we will consider articles of unspecified length, preference is given to 
articles of under 20 pages. 

6. We reserve the right to edit for clarity and accuracy. 

7. We will consider one-color artwork (photographs, line drawings, woodcuts, etc.). 

8. Payment will be made in contributor's copies. 



Submit your manuscript to: 

The Mind's Eye 
Tony Gengarelly, Managing Editor 
Campus Box 9132 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 
375 Church Street 
North Adams, MA 01247 
For queries: agengare@mda.mass.edu